(We're talking about soda jerks, obviously.)
Egg creams: They cause so much confusion. There are no eggs in an egg cream, nor is there any cream. And then there's the debate over whether to order it Manhattan-style or Brooklyn-style. (Be honest: Without Googling it, do you have any clue what either of those are?)
For egg cream newbies, the basic concept of the drink is to mix flavored syrup (typically chocolate or vanilla) with milk and seltzer. That's it. But for a drink that seems so simple, there's a lot more to understand than its ingredients.
Here to set us straight is Peter Freeman, proprietor and head soda jerk at Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain. He addresses the popularity of vanilla vs. chocolate, the general misunderstanding of the egg cream, and shares Brooklyn Farmacy's very own recipes.
So, the only difference between the Brooklyn and the Manhattan-style egg creams is chocolate vs. vanilla. Which one is more popular at Brooklyn Farmacy?
Freeman: That’s right. Manhattan egg creams are vanilla. Brooklyn are chocolate. My guess is vanilla is considered a little more sophisticated while chocolate is a little dirtier –- like Brooklyn. Now for a Queens egg cream, you have to call my dad and have him come stir the syrup and milk together before you add seltzer. I grew up on Queens egg creams. I might be the only one who calls them that. But suffice it to say it’s a New York thing. No other part of America lays claim to the egg cream.
Do you find there's a common thread among people who order each kind? For example, do people of a certain generation order a certain flavor? Or is there a borough allegiance?
Most people don’t know the difference, but when you tell them, they’ll order a Brooklyn so as not to seem like a novice. They’re in the Brooklyn Farmacy and they want to root for the home team. The older generation will just order an egg cream and if you ask if they want a chocolate egg cream they ask, “Is there any other kind?” So that’s the classic. But the truth is people have been making different flavored egg creams for a long time. Go to Ray's in the East Village on Avenue A, where I had my first egg cream 30 years ago, and you’ll see how many flavors. That’s the beauty of the soda fountain –- you get to do whatever you want.
In our experience, a lot of folks still don't really know what an egg cream is, and the name freaks them out because of the implication that there are eggs in it. Do you experience this at your shop?
Yes –- we see that all the time. The name freaks them out. I think that’s part of the plan. If it has a weird name then people ask questions about it and that gives you an opportunity to sell it. I think it sounded just as weird in the turn of the 20th century. Invention is always financially motivated.
The recipe calls for an "egg cream glass." Can you describe what kind of glass would be perfect for someone looking to make an egg cream at home?
The glass is really important. The right glass is a bell glass, with a larger top than bottom. It allows the foam to expand and makes it sit proud on top of the chocolate. It should be 9 to 12 ounces. You can make a 16-ounce egg cream but that’s a lot of milk and seltzer to ingest. It should be a quick hit. A thirst quencher. It’s not a big gulp. An interesting aside –- the 12-ounce bell glass by Libbey that they used in the soda fountain for more than 50 years was discontinued last year. We had to switch at our fountain -– now we use a 14-ounce Anchor Hocking cup. It looks nice though, it’s sort of art deco.
Your method suggests pouring the syrup in the glass last, after the milk and the seltzer are added. Other methods suggest pouring the syrup in SECOND. Does the order really make a difference?
The thing about egg creams is everybody thinks they know best and they’ll tell you. I’d say make it my way. Because my way’s the best. But everybody has their own way and I say feel free. Like I said, my dad makes his different than I do. But I can’t do everything the way my dad did. Now if my jerks make it a different way, I wait to see how it comes out. You can tell just by looking at an egg cream how good it's going to taste. You can tell how cold the seltzer is. So if it looks good, I won’t holler at them
Finally, what do YOU love about the egg cream? How would you describe it to someone who's never had one?
You can’t describe an egg cream. You just have to try it. That’s what I tell customers who don’t know what to expect. And if they pass, or are too reticent I just make them one any way.
It’s alive. You’re making something that is fleeting. It’s at its prime the minute you make it and it doesn’t get better if you let it sit. The egg cream’s history, on the other hand, never loses its fizz. Kids are still learning about egg creams today. Maybe not in your world, but they sure are in mine. Every day I teach a kid about the egg cream.