The egg cream. Beyond a doubt, this concoction
of milk, chocolate syrup and seltzer is as Brooklyn as stoopball.
And this summer, in recognition of the unique place egg creams
hold in the hearts of Brooklynites, Borough President Marty Markowitz
is hosting an Egg Cream Extravaganza at noon on Aug. 26 at Borough
The celebration will feature an egg cream-making contest open to restaurants, ice cream parlors, delis and luncheonettes, plus plenty of the unofficial drink of Brooklyn and borough trivia contest prizes for the audience.
"Everybody knows that the best place in the world to get a great egg cream is in Brooklyn," said Markowitz. "But it is time to settle, once and for all, who makes the best egg cream. And I can’t wait to taste every single one of them."
And he’s serious.
"For many years, it’s been dormant," Markowitz said Wednesday morning in an interview at Junior’s on Flatbush Avenue. "People 40 and 50 years and up - who’ve been here since they were a kid -remember them. But there’s a large immigrant base in Brooklyn, who’ve been arriving for the last 30 years, and the egg cream is not a drink they have knowledge of. This contest is a friendly effort to rekindle and share this Brooklyn tradition, the history.
"They had egg creams in the Bronx, too," said Markowitz, " but they skimped on the chocolate syrup."
Although the egg cream has certainly flourished in Brooklyn, no one really knows exactly when or where it was invented.
According to "The Encyclopedia of New York City," edited by Kenneth Jackson, one account credits the Yiddish actor Boris Thomashevsky with inventing the drink after sampling chocolat et creme during a tour of Paris. But another hails candy store owner Louis Auster as the originator. In fact, it has been said that Auster sold more than 3,000 egg creams a day from his stores before they closed in the 1950s.
Whoever invented egg creams, one thing’s for sure: They contain neither eggs nor cream. "Brooklyn Almanac," a Brooklyn Educational & Cultural Alliance publication, suggests the name is derived "from their foamy heads, which resemble beaten egg whites."
Egg creams became popular in candy stores in the 1920s, so popular that Elliot Willensky, in "When Brooklyn Was the World: 1920-1957," wrote "a candy store minus an egg cream, in Brooklyn at least, was as difficult to conceive of as the Earth without gravity."
"When I was growing up," said Markowitz, "egg creams were the drink in Brooklyn. Families would get them at candy stores and luncheonettes. They were rated by the quality of their egg creams and lime rickeys."
Willensky calls the candy store "the true anchor of a Brooklyn neighborhood," and the soda fountain, "what really made a candy store a candy store."
"Every fountain had three chromium-plated brass spigots, with black Bakelite handles," writes Willensky. "The center one dispensed tap water. But the other two ’shpritzed’ cold seltzer, the elixir of Brooklyn’s candy stores."
Mixing seltzer with "syrups displayed in wrinkly glass containers" made fruit drinks. Even Cokes were mixed by hand from Coca-Cola Company syrup and seltzer. Cherry Cokes and vanilla Cokes were "products of the combined imagination of soda jerk and customer," Willensky writes. He speculates that egg creams must have been "a product of that same combined imagination."
Markowitz says that if you went to luncheonettes at Empire Boulevard and Brooklyn Avenue or Nostrand Avenue and Empire from 1953 to 1956, you may have been sipping on an egg cream made by his own hand, as he worked as a soda jerk as a kid.
The borough president is putting his first-hand knowledge to work on Aug. 26 when, as one of the panel of judges, he will crown the victorious egg cream maker. He did offer this advice to contestants: "The head is very important. It should be light and as foamy as possible."
Kevin Rosen, co-owner of Junior’s, says, "The key is the seltzer. It has to be out of the [pressurized] container."
"And stir at the same time!" said Markowitz.
Egg cream makers can enter one of two contest categories: nouveau or traditional.
In Brooklyn, the historical popularity of the egg cream was no doubt enhanced by another borough favorite: Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Flavor Syrup.
H. Fox and Company was founded in a Brownsville basement during the early 1900s, and according to Lyn Stallworth and Rod Kennedy Jr. in "The Brooklyn Cookbook," "You absolutely cannot make an egg cream without Fox’s U-Bet."
The cookbook refers to Fox’s grandson, David, for the story of the syrup’s name:
"The name ’U-Bet’ dates from the late-’20s, when Fox’s grandfather got wildcatting fever and headed to Texas to drill for oil. ’You bet’ was a friendly term the oilmen used. His oil venture a failure, he returned to the old firm, changing Fox’s Chocolate Syrup to Fox’s U-Bet. He said, ’I came back broke but with a good name for the syrup,’ his grandson relates."
The recipe for U-Bet has remained the same since those early years: Brooklyn water, sugar, corn sweeteners, cocoa and some "secret things."
"The Brooklyn Cookbook" also contains an egg cream recipe that high school math teacher Rod Schweiger got from his grandparents and uncle, who owned a candy store on West Eighth Street and Avenue S during the ’40s and ’50s:
"First, you use Fox’s U-Bet. Take a tall Coke-type glass, from the 1950s. Put in 3/4-inch of syrup, then milk up to one-third of the glass. Then you add seltzer from a spritz bottle, the heavy kind with seltzer under pressure. You tilt the glass; if it’s tilted, the force of the seltzer squirted under the milk and syrup pushes foam up on the other side. Fill the rest of the glass with more seltzer, stirring as you spritz. The foam should be white, and at least 1/2-inch thick. The greatest!"
Markowitz has high hopes that his "Egg Cream Extravaganza" will return the confection to the menus of diners all over Brooklyn - and the United States.
"Maybe it will again have a national following," Markowitz said hopefully. "At the very least the contest will put a smile on the faces of some folks."
Borough President Marty Markowitz’s Egg Cream Extravaganza takes place at noon on Aug. 26 at Borough Hall Plaza, on Court Street at Joralemon Street. All those who would like to volunteer to be on the judging panel or to obtain a participation form for their establishment, should call Eileen Newman at Borough Hall at (718) 802-3806.