A monthly blog about the sensory experience of New York City

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

TASTE: Egg Cream with Ice Water Chaser

The secret behind the best-known New York City beverage—the egg cream—is so well known it’s almost not a secret at all: namely, that the drink contains neither eggs nor cream but rather seltzer, flavored syrup (Fox’s U-bet brand, no other), and milk. Yet there’s something in the persistence of its name that, I’ve always felt, lends the drink a richness that its low calorie content belies. Just saying the words egg cream, especially to a gristly, decidedly uncreamy Manhattan diner waitress, immediately cants my taste buds toward a creamy experience.

At the Lexington Candy Shop, on the Upper East Side, the egg cream lives on in true form. It’s served in a weighty glass with ridges up the sides, with a straw whose paper wrapper quickly wilts from the wet-cloth marks still swirling across the tabletop from the previous customers. The foamy head is thick enough to lift with the tip of a straw. When you press the straw into the foam, it leaves a puncture that immediately fills with egg-cream fizz. The sweetness of the first sip dissipates quickly on the tounge; it’s sharp, tingly. The coffee syrup swirls through the lightness of the seltzer, and the combination produces the illusion of “egg creaminess.” Slurp noisily until all that is left is a lacy filigree on the inside of the plastic glass.

But at the Lexington Candy Shop, there’s more: the water chaser: cold New York City tap water arrives in a wax-paper cone resting in a stainless-steel cup-holder, not unlike a hard-boiled-egg cup. The whole contraption has a pleasing weight, and the paper cone is cool and downy and giving, like a tiny bag of flour. Moreover, you can chew on the edge of the cone so bits of wax flake off in your mouth and mingle with the cool rush of the water, which “chases” down the coffee-milky-creamy-sparkly egg cream like nothing else. When the cups are empty, there’s the slap of a ripped-off bill on the table. Swirls of ballpoint pen—no smiley faces or heart doodles here—and like the straw wrapper the bill dissolves in the wet rings left by your drink cups. Settle up, move on into the glare of the sidewalk: what could be more New York City than that?