“Egg creams have neither eggs, nor cream.” It sounded like a bit from Mike Myers’ classic SNL sketch “Coffee Talk,” but it was one of the first things my salesman father said when teaching me how to make an egg cream in his Long Island kitchen.
My parents divorced when I was 3, and I saw my dad and his family — his wife, and my half-brother — every other weekend until I turned 17. Our relationship had been fraught at times, marred with complexities and susceptible to disagreements.
But in between there were memories that stayed on rotation. The way he made the best, fluffy scrambled eggs, the day he dropped me off at college, watching 1972’s “The Heartbreak Kid” and especially drinking egg creams together. It was one ritual that always connected us no matter the setting — or later, the passing of time.
The drink remains somewhat mysterious, its origins varying depending on the source. A popular belief is that Jewish immigrant and candy store owner Louis Auster invented them on the Lower East Side of New York City in the 1880s, and the name was derived from the Yiddish word “echt,” meaning “real.” Word has it, on a hot summer day, Auster sold more than 3,000 egg creams. Others say the name simply came from the frothy, creamy appearance — and did actually, at one early point, contain real eggs and cream.
“The perfect one is made in a very specific order,” my dad told me during that first tutorial, stressing, “The execution is of utmost importance.”
As a boy, my dad got 10 cents from his mom each day, and spent it at the nearby Brooklyn luncheonette on an egg cream. His own father — to whom he was close — was a salesman who traveled a lot for work. My dad spent much of his youth at that counter, sipping the cool, sweet drink. Now, he included me in his treasured pastime.
Fox’s U Bet chocolate syrup bottle was a fixture on the door of his refrigerator, inconspicuously nestled among condiments and salad dressings. In a strange way, its presence gave me a small comfort and allowed me to feel more at home inside my dad’s house.
On the counter were two frosted, ice cold mugs, and my dad poured in the syrup in one, followed by milk, which filled up the glass three quarters of the way. He filled the remaining space with seltzer, which instantly fizzled and created bubbles in the mixture. I was handed a long, silver spoon and instructed to stir — the foamier the better.
I don’t remember exactly how the egg cream tasted that day, though I’m sure it was delicious. I just know how good it felt to have our own, special thing we could share together.
After the death of my beloved mother from cancer in 2010, my father and I didn’t speak for many years. At 29 years old, I’d experienced little life change until then. When my father missed her funeral — due to work obligations out of the country — I didn’t yet possess the skills to process my emotions, and didn’t know how to communicate my anger, let alone fully understand it. So instead, I pushed it down, and my father away, until both were at an unreachable distance.
That space turned literal when he moved to California with his family and retired. During a six-year period, we remained stuck in what felt like an immovable way.
But when I got married in 2017, it was the catalyst for a renewed connection, and a new chance with my father. A transformation didn’t happen overnight, but growth was coming, and we were both ready to bury the old and plant something new.
A year later, I suffered a miscarriage five months into my first pregnancy. After hearing the news, my dad booked a redeye to New York City and met us back at our apartment when we returned from the hospital. Amidst a haze of medicated pain and emotions, I knew our relationship would never be the same. This time, rather than creating distance, our shared grief over my child — his first grandchild — kept us connected.
There were some small joys that week. We watched “Gotti,” the 2018 John Travolta movie, and laughed through every awful minute. We ordered from Katz Deli and shared one of my favorite meals: an overstuffed turkey sandwich with fries and, of course, vanilla egg creams.
It felt like lifetimes had passed since I’d learned how to make “the perfect egg cream” in his airy lit kitchen. Yet somehow in that moment, nothing had changed. I was a daughter, sharing a simple moment with a parent — and I felt close to him in a way like never before.
Since then, our relationship is the best it’s ever been, and our past is just that. He’s been there for me when I needed him, and made me safe in ways I never thought possible.
Living on different coasts means we don’t see each other in person often, and I can’t always talk to him at a moment’s notice. But when I really need to feel his presence, I head out the door and get a dose of nostalgic comfort in the form of an egg cream.
Outside of the Northeast, the drink is far less common, but in New York, where it originated, there are still places to get an authentic one. I grew up near one of the classic, old school soda shops, Ray’s Candy, where owner Ray Alvarez has crafted the city’s most famous egg creams since 1974 (as well other indulgences like fried Oreos and zeppoles).
When I go, I’m handed a nondescript, paper cup with a fizzing, frothy substance that resembles whipped cream. As it hits my lips I’m instantly transported back in time to my dad’s warmth — emanating from a bubbling, sweet tasting glass. It’s not just a drink for me, but a way of honoring him and our relationship.
An egg cream has four simple, essential ingredients: vanilla or chocolate syrup, seltzer, milk and a lot of love.