As a born-and-raised New Yorker, whose paternal great-grandparents operated a Bensonhurst candy shop serving egg creams, never once have I thought to myself, “Where can I find a to go egg cream?” And yet, I found myself sucking one down in a plastic coffee cup on a recent rainy afternoon as I balanced an umbrella in my other hand.
We all know how iconic egg creams are, to the degree that in south Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, music promoter Sid Bernstein — the man who gets points for helping to bring the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to America — has engraved on his tombstone, “Have an Egg Cream.”
The love for the egg cream — milk, (the arguably requisite) Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup, carbonated water, to create a foamy head, with a consistency much lighter and velvety than a milkshake — has run deep in New York for way longer than I’ve been alive. It’s considered to be the invention of candy shop owner, Louis Auster, whose recipe reportedly was brought “to the grave.” (Fox’s U-Bet came on the scene later.)
Over the years, as diners and luncheonettes have become an endangered species, egg creams were left behind on new menus, treated largely as a relic with the exception of places like the Upper East Side’s Lexington Candy Shop or Forest Hills’s Eddie’s Sweet Shop, and other old-school spots still hanging on for dear life in the face of rising rents and changing clientele.
“I’m honestly half inclined to suggest that the city’s current mayor introduce tax incentives so that new guard venues have some motivation to keep this New York signature alive and relevant,” Eater NY critic Ryan Sutton wrote earlier this year. The mayor has yet to rear his head in response. But luckily, a new wave of operators is bringing back the egg cream on their own anyway — now some with modern mix-ins, while others keep the original format intact.
Lately, I’ve thankfully seen vanilla and chocolate egg creams at the relaunch of the Upper West Side’s Old John’s Luncheonette, an ube interpretation at Greenpoint’s Vietnamese Di An Di, and a coffee version at Crown Height’s Eastern European all-day restaurant Agi’s Counter. In just the past few weeks, the traditional egg cream reappeared at the Court Street Grocer team’s S&P, in the former Eisenberg’s in Flatiron. For what it’s worth, my other Eater critic colleague Robert Sietsema told me he once spotted Lou Reed savoring one at the original Eisenberg’s (Lou Reed, of course, even had a song called Egg Cream).
In most ways, Beanmonger Coffee in Gowanus, which opened down the street from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que a few weeks ago, is your run-of-the-mill Brooklyn coffee shop: Step inside and there are bags of Partners Coffee beans, avocado toast on multigrain sourdough with furikake, and espresso drinks with twists like a pumpkin pie latte. But for $4.50 you can also get an unlikely modern-day coffee-shop egg cream served either to stay in a glass or, as I did, to go in a plastic cup.
The Beanmonger version, while teetering on too sweet, is, yes, made with Fox’s U-Bet. But, unusually, for quick-service ease, it forgoes the siphon seltzer bottle — once a staple in soda fountains serving egg creams of yore — and instead uses Topo Chico. The finished product is less foamy than the classic but comes close to approximating handmade seltzer, with salty notes from the sparkling mineral water. I went with the regular whole milk, but the coffee shop also offers it vegan with oat milk. Customers can also get a double shot of espresso added.
While I will always prefer the meditative experience of sitting down to enjoy a traditional egg cream paired with a Reuben, the fast-casual nature does harken back to the egg cream roots, and I can see Beanmonger’s being of value to anyone looking for a pick-me-up on a dreary day, or a kid-friendly reward for the many parents in this stroller-heavy area of Brooklyn. No matter the format, I’m excited to see it reappearing on more menus and keep the historical drink coursing through my veins.