This summer, when I was in NY, I decided to try an egg cream.
I’m not sure where or when I first heard about egg creams, but as far back as I can remember, I’ve always envisioned them in somewhat romantic terms. A concoction of milk, syrup, and seltzer water, they seemed like the perfect drink to sip on a sweltering day in the summer in New York City. So when I found myself sweating on the sidewalk in downtown Manhattan this July, I realized it was time for a quest.
After a brief review of the existing egg cream literature, I narrowed my selection to the following 5 egg cream purveyors, all located in the East Village and Lower East Side (for a convenient egg cream crawl). Here are my thoughts on their offerings, in order from lousiest to best.
At Katz’s you wait in line to receive a ticket, and then proceed to the appropriate counter (e.g. sandwiches, soda and fries). The egg cream counter is the farthest to the right, closest to the window.
I asked for a chocolate / vanilla combo egg cream, because I had an insider tip that chocolate / vanilla is the way to go. My egg cream was made by Johnny, who did not reveal any secret tricks to his technique. He did, however, divulge that his favorite egg cream flavor is chocolate.
I guess that when Rob Reiner’s mother nods to Meg Ryan’s character in “When Harry Met Sally” and tells the waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having,” she wasn’t talking about a chocolate / vanilla egg cream.
The next best egg cream I had was at Russ and Daughters. Russ and Daughters has a beautiful shop – decorated in crisp black and whites. When you walk in, it feels like you’ve entered a shop straight out of the early 20th century, which you have – Russ and Daughters opened their doors in 1914.
Sadly, the Russ and Daughters egg cream, like Katz’s, was too sweet. In addition, it had a bitter, almost medicinal, aftertaste. Lastly, despite the fancy seltzer bottles and the ample foam on top, it fell flat.
I will, however, return to sample Russ and Daughters’ other enticing offerings. I hear they have delicious pickles, and I spotted in the display case some marzipan)…
In the East Village, I sampled a chocolate / vanilla egg cream from Ray’s. Ray’s is literally a hole in the wall. I walked right by it, twice. Like the secret taco stand, Ray’s serves your food to you through a window.
Ken’s technique paid off. The egg cream at Ray’s was delicious. But, like the egg cream at Katz’s and Russ and Daughters, it fell prey to the same low seltzer dilemma. At least when you get an egg cream at Ray’s, you can take a nice stroll through Tomkins Square Park.
My egg cream was made by Paul, who explained that the secret to Gem Spa’s egg creams was “old foundation in the basement.” I had no idea what he was talking about, but decided to take his word for it!
Negative points for serving me a vanilla egg cream when I asked for chocolate / vanilla. Bonus points for offering me a free pretzel to go with my egg cream, and for (in the process) dispelling my life-long perplexity over why my paternal grandfather liked to eat pretzels with his root beer floats. I now recognize that this is brilliant.
According to Iurii, the way to make a perfect egg cream is to use “a nice portion of milk, because when it’s a little milk, it’s not going to be good.” He was right. His egg cream was cool, refreshing, not too sweet, and had the perfect proportion of foam.
I brought my friend Ji-Young, and we stayed for Borscht.