Former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz once told Imbibe that the egg cream, a fizzy blend of milk, syrup, and seltzer, “has been Brooklyn’s official elixir since the 1920s.” That’s quite a statement for an old-timey soda fountain beverage that rarely makes its way onto newer menus — or at least not as frequently as expensive pour overs, oat milk lattes, or $17 glasses of natural wines from Georgia.
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. For now, however, I’m pretty stoked about the egg cream at Agi’s Counter in Crown Heights, a new Jewish-leaning Central European restaurant and bakery that laces the treat with coffee — alongside a few unusual ingredients.
Let’s clear one thing up in that regard: The egg cream, believed to have originated among immigrant Jewish communities in Brooklyn and on the Lower East Side, almost universally contains neither eggs nor cream. Agi’s, by contrast, finds a way to use not just egg but also a cream — of sorts.
“When I was younger and would stay with my grandmother Agi, she would always put a chocolate egg cream in my hand as soon as I walked through the door,” chef Jeremy Salamon tells me. Salamon, however, eschews the traditional vanilla or chocolate varieties — often made with Fox’s U-Bet syrup — for a more caffeinated option.
“We wanted a way to recycle the leftover coffee at the end of the day so we reduced it into a syrup and added it to the egg cream,” says Salamon. Into the mix goes a few other unexpected ingredients, including a “whipped egg yolk cream” made from instant espresso, vanilla, yolks, and wonderfully thick condensed milk — a recipe the owner attributes to sous chef Sara Pagan. A staffer vigorously stirs the beverage in a glass that is more noticeably stout than thin or tall. That glass contains ice, which some will say belongs in an egg cream as much as ketchup belongs on caviar or as soft serve belongs on pizza.
Salamon says he uses the ice to dilute the sweetness of the drink and to ensure a proper chill. As someone who used to drink their weight in egg creams growing up on Long Island — never with ice — I can say without hesitation that addition doesn’t detract one bit from this masterpiece. In fact it renders the drink more decisively refreshing. Agi’s egg cream is close to perfect, flaunting a chilly sweetness, a jolt of coffee, a subtle creaminess, and a fizziness so noticeable you almost wonder whether someone carbonated all the ingredients together. A layer of milky froth sits on top, as it should. Cost: $8.
Agi’s also serves a collection of fine Austro-Hungarian pastries, a fact that’s worth highlighting in a city where modern sweet shops generally adhere to a more French or Italian ethos. Pastry chef Renee Hudson makes a very good Linzer torte ($10) on Fridays only, using a hazelnut crust, a bit of frangipane, and a touch of seasonal jam (currently lemon). The texture of the torte is pleasantly coarse, acting as a nicely textured backdrop for the almond paste and fragrant lemons.
Even better is the traditional Hungarian gerbeaud ($5): hand rolled layers of walnuts and apricot jam in between thin layers of yeast cake. Hudson coats the dessert with chocolate ganache and slices each serving into rectangles no larger than a deck of cards. The confection partially recalls the textures and flavors of good rugelach; it sports a hint of chew and a wallop of nutty fruitiness. In fact, if the apricot were any stronger one could probably turn the gerbeaud into a scented candle. Then the chocolate and sea salt show up to dampen down the brightness.
Would these two pastries ideally accompany a hot cup of coffee? Certainly, and Agi’s has you covered on that front. But it’s impossible for me not to order an egg cream whenever one appears on a menu. If you told me an elegant sushi omakase came with a $25 pairing of junmai daiginjo sake or a $200 pairing of 10 different egg creams, I would choose the egg cream pairing each time. It would be the New York thing to do.
So guess what? I’m rating the egg cream at Agi’s, along with Hudson’s pastries, a BUY. And for those who want something more substantial; Agi’s just debuted dinner service on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Alas, egg creams are only available during the day.
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).