My father grew up near Yankee Stadium, and my mother in Crown Heights, so I never acquired a taste for egg creams, I inherited one. For the unfamiliar, an egg cream is a simple combination of chocolate syrup, milk, and seltzer, invented by Louis Auster, a Brooklyn Jew and candy-store owner. In the summers as a teenager, I would regularly go out of my way to stop at Gem Spa, the East Village bodega that has quietly become legendary for its egg creams, to order one.
Now if you ask any Jew, New Yorker, or Lou Reed fan what the most important part of an egg cream is, you will invariably hear “U-Bet.” Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup is the key to the classic egg cream’s flavor, and any gonif who would try to pass off an egg cream with Hershey’s or Nestle would be laughed out of the deli. Once, alone and desperate, I made one with Bosco, but it was a dark time in my life I’d prefer to forget.
An egg cream made with U-Bet syrup tastes creamy, light, and refreshing all at once, and is a marvel of New York Jewish Cuisine, but it is also an example of how unsustainability can be writ into the fabric of the deli. U-Bet, for all it’s New York charm and nostalgia, is made from factory-farmed corn syrup, cocoa produced and purchased without concern for the farmers or communities around them, dry milk from cows tied up in stalls and treated with hormones.
When David Sax brought up egg creams at our lunch, I asked him if one could make them sustainably and from scratch, with well-sourced cocoa and milk. He liked the idea and said he’d seen it tried at Kenny and Zuke’s in Portland, OR (of all places!) with Dagoba chocolate, but that the clientele there were skeptical towards the drink when it was introduced. But now? “They always complain, until they taste it.”