Why is an egg cream so Jewish, and where can you find one in St. Louis

Why+is+an+egg+cream+so+Jewish%2C+and+where+can+you+find+one+in+St.+Louis

When you break it down, an egg cream does not have egg in it. In fact it doesn’t have cream in it, either. All this iconic Jewish drink is is milk, chocolate syrup, and seltzer. That’s it.

Why is it an iconic Jewish Drink

According to Jewish lore, the egg cream was born in the poor and crowded Jewish communities of the Lower East Side and Brooklyn. According to Barry Joseph, author of “Seltzertopia,” in the 1920s and 1930s Louis Auster — the Jewish immigrant credited with creating the egg cream — would report selling 3,000 egg creams a day. On hot days the number would soar with the temperature — up to 12,000!

Plus, two of the egg cream’s three ingredients have strong Jewish connections.

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Jews dominated the seltzer trade in New York City, and Jews loved to drink it. According to Sara Gardner in her article “Why Jews Love Seltzer,” seltzer is a pareve beverage “beloved by Jews, observant and assimilated alike.” It was “a welcome digestive aid to the heavy Eastern European fare” people ate in delis.

Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup was produced by a Jewish man, Herman Fox, in his Brooklyn tenement home at the beginning of the 20th century. Fox was a gambler who lost his money in a Texas oil well investment, but turned things around when he struck gold with his syrup. While his money stayed in Texas, the Texan term “you bet it’s good” became part of his syrup’s name.

In the 2018 documentary Egg Cream,” food historian Andrew Coe describes egg creams as a cheap copy of the soda fountain drinks from the fancier neighborhoods of New York. Coe said the drink “gave people a sense that they were having a fancy, uptown kind of drink for a very downtown kind of price.” Even the name sounds rich, he says. But it’s also misleading; the standard egg cream has no egg and no cream.

Some say the name is a bastardization of the Yiddish word “echt,” which means genuine or real. Folkore states when Auster was making the drinks he would “call to his staff and ask them to bring up more of the [grade] ‘A’ cream which, given New York accents, morphed over time to ‘egg cream.’”

In Brooklyn, Pete Freeman, is the co-owner, and co-founder and chief soda jerk at the Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain.  He believes the original egg cream really was made with egg. In the ’20s, he says, refrigeration was bad. Soda jerks would whip egg whites and dollop them on top of the chocolate soda. In so doing, they could turn a 2-cent chocolate soda into a 5-cent egg cream. Only later, he believes, was egg replaced by milk when good refrigeration became more widespread.

Just as there is no consensus on the origins of the name, there are myriad ways to make the drink. Freeman first mixes milk and seltzer for a white, foamy head; the purity of the foam is important to him. Then he adds the chocolate syrup. Grogan, however, makes his egg cream with — cream! He mixes the cream with Fox’s U-Bet syrup and then adds Brooklyn Seltzer Boys seltzer for a thick, rich head.

For Freeman, the egg cream is not just a drink — it’s a mission. When he and his sister opened Brooklyn Farmacy, the egg cream was disappearing from menus and people weren’t giving it the attention he felt it deserved.

“Your legacy can only survive if one generation passes it down to the next,” Freeman says. “You can bemoan that or do something about it. Parents and kids now come to our shop. Our egg creams are codified in those kids’ memories. They will grow up and share it with their children. And the egg cream will live on.”

Freeman says nostalgia is at least half of the egg cream’s appeal. There was a time when every New York diner and ice cream parlor offered them. As Elliot Willensky wrote in his book “When Brooklyn Was The World: 1920-1957,” “a candy store minus an egg cream, in Brooklyn at least, was as difficult to conceive of as the Earth without gravity.”

Where can you find an egg cream in St. Louis?

I’ve been searching and calling all over town, and so far I can find just one single place where they make an authentic egg cream, The Fountain on Locust. Joy Grdnic is the owner and says the vision for Fountain was to be an authentic 1930s soda fountain shop, and that means egg cream. “Anybody should be able to come here and enjoy that old fashioned throwback,” said Grdnic.

Grdnic says over the years, she’s had customers comment specifically on the egg cream, and how it made them feel nostalgic for their past. One woman would come in on her birthday and order an egg cream. She last did so on her 106th birthday.

The Fountain on Locust is located 3 blocks east of the Fox Theater.

3037 Locust Street
St. Louis, Missouri, 63103