Containing neither egg nor cream, the New York egg cream was reportedly invented by Jewish candy-store owner Louis Auster in Brooklyn in the late 19th century…or it might have been another guy on the Lower East Side. Competing claims abound about how egg creams became so popular in NYC. (And no one knows for sure where the name came from, but it might be derived from the Yiddish echt keem, meaning “pure sweetness”).

All we can say for sure is what an egg cream is today: a simple soda-fountain concoction made of cold milk, pressurized seltzer (not poured from a bottle), and chocolate syrup, though not just any chocolate syrup. Purists won’t look twice at an egg cream that doesn’t use Fox’s U-Bet, a thin syrup with early ties to the so-called Brooklyn egg cream and a unique taste thanks to the real cocoa and dry milk powder it’s made with (it no longer contains high-fructose corn syrup, at least). When prepared correctly, the result is a light-and-simple subtly chocolaty, frothy drink—its foamy head almost resembling a beaten egg white—that makes you feel like a kid again.

Good to know: One “expert” claims the truly authentic egg cream must be assembled in a particular way so that there is a chocolate dot on the top of the head. We have never seen this dot, and are not such sticklers for ingredient order. Also, vanilla egg creams, made with vanilla syrup, exist as well; they are just not as common as chocolate ones.

Where: Part of the fun of experiencing an egg cream is a good old-school environment, and so our egg cream pictured is from the vintage, no-frills lunch counter at the sadly closed Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, which had dated to 1928. However, the old Eisenberg’s is now called S&P Lunch (174 Fifth Ave. nr 22nd St., map), and it’s like Eisenberg’s 2.0. The kitchen is bigger, details are new, and the menu is tweaked, but it’s still a simple place to sit at the counter or a table in back and have a sandwich (and an egg cream). It even turns out that S&P was the original name of Eisenberg’s back in the day (according to The New York Times). Just a block from the elegant Flatiron building and pretty Madison Square Park, we can still say it is a New York gem of a luncheonette.

When: Mon-Fri, 6:30am-8pm; Sat, 9am-6pm; Sun, 9am-5pm

Order: An egg cream, of course! The price has gone up for these babies; they now clock in at $6, but the quality remains. Made with U-Bet chocolate syrup and plopped down unceremoniously in front of you, it’s a quintessential specimen, with a lovely refreshing, sweet frothiness (incidentally, S&P still serves it in a classic plastic diner cup). Vanilla and coffee flavors are also offered.

Pair it with one of S&P’s signature satisfying sandwiches, like the tuna melt or a BLT. Reubens, egg salad, chopped liver, fried salami—you get the picture. We enjoyed the S&P Regular, a pastrami sandwich with cherry peppers and Russian dressing, and the crinkle-cut chips are fantastic. You can also try another NYC blast-from-the-past here: the malted milkshake.

Alternatively: For a real-deal egg cream, your best bet is a humble diner, deli, or luncheonette in the city. Since 24-hour newspaper-and-cigarette shop Gem Spa closed in the East Village during the pandemic, we have yet to find our new favorite in the East Village (suggestions welcome!). In Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, we have a soft spot for family-owned, 88-year-old Tom’s Restaurant (718-636-9738; 782 Washington Ave., map), not only for its tasty egg cream—which, in a nontraditional but delicious twist, comes topped with whipped cream unless otherwise requested—but also for its legendarily cheerful customer service.

Likewise in the nontraditional-but-tasty corner: We have heard of a slew of newfangled flavored egg creams (think mango, tamarind, strawberry) sold alongside the traditional ones at 24-hour Ray’s Candy Store (113 Ave. A nr. 7th St., map), in the East Village. In Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, the beautiful Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain (513 Henry St., map) has taken care to re-create a nostalgic ambience, down to the old-school egg creams. For a more complete list of recommendations, see this excellent guide to NYC egg creams.

Last updated: May 31, 2024