Soda Side Up

By Alison Baitz (For Express)

April 11, 2013

The humble egg cream — a traditional non-alcoholic soda-fountain drink best described as the love child of a milk shake and a soda — is ripe for a comeback.

It’s a beverage of the most misleading name, whose modern-day ingredients include neither an egg nor (usually) cream. Milk, flavored syrup (traditionally Fox’s U-bet chocolate) and seltzer water combine to produce a fizzy treat with a foamy head reminiscent of draft beer pours.

“You know when you were a little kid and you would blow in your milk and the bubbles would come up? It does that naturally,” says Gina Chersevani of Union Market’s old-style soda counter Buffalo & Bergen.
Chersevani’s love affair with the egg cream started young. She recalls sipping a chocolate version around the age of 5 or 6, after her mother’s enthusiasm for the drink rubbed off on the future mixologist.

“It’s like having a little bit of chocolate dance on your tongue,” Chersevani says.

The egg creams she serves at B&B are concocted with syrups made fresh in-house (dark chocolate, strawberry, orange sassafras), seltzer and — though it deviates from the recipes you’ll see these days — cream from Pennsylvania’s Trickling Springs Creamery.

“There’s no way you could get the frothy head by using whole milk. We stick with cream,” she says. The result is hearty and invigorating, with a kick of sweetness.

It’s believed the egg cream was invented in Brooklyn in the early 20th century, though Darcy O’Neil, a soda-fountain expert and author of “Fix the Pumps,” argues its origins go back even further. “The New York egg cream started off as a milk shake back in probably the 1870s,” he says. This version had both eggs and cream on its ingredients list, though O’Neil explains those add-ons were eventually dropped to keep prices competitive. He believes the recipe was born in Brooklyn, considering the beverage’s staying power throughout the borough.

At Dupont Circle’s DGS Delicatessen, the type of egg cream served reflects the contemporary, pared-down version. Brian Zipin, the restaurant’s general manager and beverage director, has a long history with the drink. He started slinging egg creams at Philadelphia’s Levis Hot Dogs in his early teens and he championed alcoholic egg creams as a New York bartender in the late ’80s.

Now, he’s a bit of an egg cream purist. DGS only serves one version ($3), made with ice-cold milk, Fox’s U-bet chocolate syrup and fresh seltzer. Zipin says he considered all sorts of flavor possibilities for the DGS menu, but kept going back to chocolate. “In experimenting with different flavors, nothing is ever going to be as good as a chocolate egg cream,” he says. In terms of how he recommends enjoying an egg cream, he’s open to pairing it with a savory meal.  “It’s not like, ‘Oh my god, an egg cream goes great with a corned beef sandwich,’ although, it certainly does work.”

At Pop’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream in Alexandria, executive chef Cory Fey isn’t afraid to shake things up a bit. By swapping milk for a scoop of chocolate ice cream, the egg creams at Pop’s ($5.50) have a thicker, milk shake-like consistency with just a touch of soda.

Still unsure about the mighty egg cream’s powers of refreshment? We’ll let Zipin have the final word: “I know that in the middle of summer, coming in and having an ice-cold egg cream during the day is a pretty cool thing.”

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