The first time I had an egg cream was five years ago in one of the city’s many fake-retro diners. It was described to me as “chocolate milk for grown-ups,” making me think it contained Kahlua. It did not. And contrary to its name, it did not contain eggs, but rather, chocolate syrup, milk, and seltzer water. Despite this, that hit –though probably average at best—was a gateway drug for me. Since then, I can’t pass a rundown looking diner or luncheonette without wanting to try their egg cream. Like a thumbprint, no egg cream is alike. This prompted me to try to find the best ones in the city, and after strenuous research (and digesting gallons of seltzer water) I present to you my findings.
(For the sake of scientific control, I only ordered chocolate egg creams, but I highly encourage others to branch out and try other flavors. Except for pineapple. Never pineapple.)
Most Chocolate-y: Square Diner (33 Leonard Street, Manhattan)
I watched the man behind the counter put pump after pump of chocolate into the egg cream like a doctor administering morphine. This drink is not for the squeamish when it comes to sweets. One sip was enough to turn my insides into a Cadbury Easter Bunny. For some, this may be overkill, but not for me. I drank mine with a chocolate chip cookie.
Most Enthusiastic: Brooklyn Farmacy (513 Henry Street, Brooklyn)
For this experiment, I avoided diners that brought to mind the faux-retro glitziness of Wowsville, USA from Ghost World. At first glance, Farmacy may came off as such a place, but their sheer enthusiasm for egg creams won me over (not to mention their décor is just adorable rather than aggressively adorable). Behind the counter reads a sign: “IF YOU’VE NEVER HAD AN EGG CREAM BEFORE, YOU’RE IN FOR A TREAT!” Obviously, the drinks themselves live up to the hype. And if that doesn’t convince you, each of their receipts read: “DRINK MORE EGG CREAMS.”
Best Atmosphere: Eddie’s Sweet Shop (105-29 Metropolitan Avenue, Queens)
This Forest Hills staple is a mile away from the nearest subway stop, but you can use the walk through the gorgeous neighborhood to contemplate the egg cream that lays ahead of you. Eddie’s is the kind of place you wish you could have visited with a grandparent or a member of The Four Seasons. The place seems to be immune to the passage of time, and I swear I overheard an argument about the League of Nations over at the counter.
Most Old-at-Heart: Hinsch’s (8518 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn)
The main street through the neighborhood of Bay Bridge is a hectic affair, especially at 3 pm when the young’uns are released from school. There’s no better oasis than Hinsch’s, which has been around since 1946. The average customer age seems to be in the early 70’s, and there’s a space out front to park your walker. In short, I couldn’t have felt more at home. There’s no rush to finish your egg cream here, as everything moves at a snail’s pace. If it wasn’t for my osteoarthritis, I could’ve stayed all day.
Best Soda Jerk: Gem Spa (121 Second Avenue, Manhattan)
Gem Spa is essentially a bodega that also happens to serve egg creams, but they do it with style. When I told the man behind the counter I wanted an egg cream, his face lit up. Though the chocolate pump was a bit crusty and the egg cream was served in a paper cup, it still exceeded expectations. It’s tradition at Gem Spa to take a “first sip” of your egg cream’s frothy top while the man watches you in anticipation. You then nod in approval, and he knows he’s done a job well done.
Best Presentation: Tom’s (782 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn)
There’s always a line to get into Tom’s, so your best bet is to get there right at 7 am. You’ll have the counter all to yourself, and you’ll need as much space as you can get to admire the artistic integrity that goes into each egg cream. Each drink is mixed so well that no chocolate can be seen lingering at the bottom. Whipped cream is sprinkled with a dusting of chocolate. The glass always sparkles. If da Vinci made egg creams, he’d work at Tom’s.
Most Like a Woody Allen Film: Neil’s Coffee Shop (961 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan)
If you need fodder for your next novel, go to Neil’s on a Sunday morning. The egg cream comes out fast, but in the time it will take you to drink it, you’ll overhear at least one couple arguing about who stopped up the toilet, two friends trying to piece together last night’s shenanigans, and one quasi-homeless man they allow to sit in the back and mumble to himself.
Best Overall: Ray’s Candy Store (113 Avenue A, Manhattan)
As if it wasn’t enough that Ray’s also has beignets, soft serve, and Belgian fries, they also happen to have the best egg cream in the city. Don’t be put off by its unassuming appearance or the humble storefront entrance. I took the paper cup, walked out, took a sip, and then stopped in my tracks. My exact thought: That is a motherfucking good egg cream. That, my friends, should be the standard reaction to an egg cream.