Brooklyn Paper on the Egg Cream Invitational

Brooklyn Paper & Brownstoner (read here) provided a detailed overview and more great photos of the 2024 National Egg Cream Invitational.

Egg Cream of the crop! Brooklyn Seltzer Museum hosts borough’s first-ever National Egg Cream competition

NY: The 2024 National Egg Cream Invitational
Daniele Raleigh of Egger’s Ice Cream Parlor in Staten Island shows off her egg cream making skills at the Brooklyn Seltzer Museum’s first-ever Egg Cream Invitational.
Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

March 15 was National Egg Cream Day, and to mark the occasion, the Brooklyn Seltzer Museum in Cypress Hills hosted its first-ever National Egg Cream Invitational — a competition featuring the best in soda fountains from New York City to Philadelphia.

Contrary to its name, the frothy combo of milk, chilled seltzer, and chocolate syrup doesn’t contain a trace of egg —unless it’s from Franklin Fountain in Philadelphia, but more about that later.

One thing is for sure, though: The egg cream has New York City roots.

The drink dates back to the 1890s, when it became a staple of the Big Apple soda fountain scene. But, historians are split on whether the egg cream hails from Manhattan’s Lower East Side or if it’s Brooklyn’s “official elixir,” as former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz once called it.

Its name is said by some to come from the Eastern European Jewish immigrants in New York City at the time of its invention — a variation of the Yiddish word, “echt keem” which translates to “pure sweetness.” Others say it’s “Brooklyn speak” for “a cream,” and some believe the drink gets its name from its frothy, egg-like top.

Barry Joseph, author of “Seltzertopia” and founder and co-curator of the Brooklyn Seltzer Museum, told Brooklyn Paper that as the premiere seltzer institution, he felt it was the museum’s responsibility to teach New Yorkers about the historical impact of seltzer and the egg cream.

“Doing an event like this where we can bring together local businesses — some that are a few years old, some that are almost a century year old — to come and share the role they’ve played in continuing this important cultural tradition is part of our job as a cultural and educational institution in New York City,” Joseph said.

Junior’s general manager William McCarthy made a traditional Brooklyn egg cream.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Vying for the top prize — the coveted Golden Siphon — were three teams from Brooklyn: Gina Giasullo and Pete Freeman with Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain, John Grogan with Juliana’s Pizza, and William McCarthy of Junior’s restaurant fanfare. Staten Island also had a horse in the race, represented by Danielle Raleigh, owner of Egger’s Ice Cream Parlor.

Eric Finkelstein from S&P Lunch and John Philis from Lexington Candy Shop repped Manhattan, while brothers Eric and Ryan Berley, owners of Franklin Fountain in Philadelphia, hoped to take the trophy back home to the City of Brotherly Love.

Junior’s general manager, McCarthy, shared that the egg cream was one of his favorite drinks, but didn’t divulge any secrets about Junior’s egg cream-making process. “You got to wait and see,” he told Brooklyn Paper. “[But] what better way to represent Junior’s and Brooklyn and making a traditional Brooklyn egg cream?”

National Egg Cream Day was started in 2011 by Gregory Cohen, one of four jurors in Friday’s competition. The former Brooklynite owns Lofty Pursuits in Tallahassee, Florida — an upscale, full-service soda fountain based on a traditional New York City candy store.

Eric Finkelstein from S&P Lunch shows off his egg cream making skills.

Cohen was looking for consistency, smoothness, and taste when judging the classic concoctions.

“In my mind, a white bitter head, a thick chocolaty base, a little bit of carbonation just enough for you to feel it,” he said when asked to describe the perfect egg cream. “It should be smooth, sweet, refreshing, and chocolate-y.”

The jury also included social media content creator Jane August, Shulamith Bahat, CEO of the American arm of the Tel Aviv-based museum ANU, and 9-year-old Aidan Gomberg, whose great-great-grandfather started Gomberg Seltzer Works — now known as Brooklyn Seltzer Boys — 70 years ago. The Brooklyn Seltzer Museum is located within the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys’ factory.

Before the competition kicked off, Joseph explained the judging criteria, which included showmanship performance, presentation and taste.

Each team had its own style, mixing up the frothy brew.

Brooklyn Seltzer Boys is the oldest seltzer factory in New York City.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Grogan, general manager at Juliana’s Pizza, started with the chocolate syrup, topping it with heavy cream, before blasting the seltzer from a Brooklyn Seltzer Boys bottle into the glass, while whisking the concoction into a frothy dream with a long spoon.

Gina Giasullo and Pete Freeman with Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain filled the glass with milk and seltzer before topping it off with their “secret” chocolate syrup.

Giasullo said she likes to compress the seltzer bubbles when crafting her egg creams.

“If you just put in the seltzer, they are very light bubbles,” she explained. “If you compress and let the bubbles go down, the head lasts a little bit longer.”

Eric and Ryan Berley looked like classic “fizzicians,” dressed in button-down shirts and white coats, complete with the traditional white and red soda jerk hat.

Juror Gregory Cohen was looking for consistency, smoothness, and taste.

The Berley brothers literally put the egg in their egg cream, whisking yolks with homemade vanilla syrup before adding heavy cream and seltzer water. The “icing” on the frothy head, they said, was a pretzel log.

Eric Berley said that Brooklyn Seltzer Boys’ fizzy water is the best in the world. His brother Ryan added, “You can’t even get this in Philly. This is really an honor to be using this.”

After the judges had their fill of sipping and tasting seven different egg creams, it was time to announce the winners.

Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain took runner-up for best performance, and Egger’s Ice Cream Parlor received an award for best presentation. Iconic Junior’s and Lexington Candy Shop shared the accolades for taste.

However, the Golden Siphon for the best all-around egg cream did not stay in its birthplace. It went to Franklin Fountain in Philadelphia, adding another layer to the fierce rivalry between Philly and New York City.

Brooklyn Seltzer Museum hosted the first National Egg Cream Invitational competition on Mar. 15.

Ryan Berley said the win was “special.”

“It’s great to be here and great to celebrate stories,” he said. “It’s all about people and being able to meet everybody.”

Eric Berley added that he and his brother were “incredibly honored” to be in Brooklyn representing Philly.

“As the awards were being dispensed, as we soda jerks call it, I realized it’s probably the most political thing to not allow the prize to stay in Brooklyn because they’re all the original,” Berley said. “We love Brooklyn, and we were so honored to be asked, and this is just an amazing honor for us.”

Kenny Gomberg — also of generational seltzer fame — hosted a pre-event tour of the factory and museum. The president of Brooklyn Seltzer Boys, the oldest seltzer factory in New York City, shared that only three seltzer bottlers are left in the United States. Now in its fourth generation, the company delivers seltzer, hand-filled in antique glass bottles, to businesses and private homes. Besides the environmentally friendly impact, the personal delivery of seltzer in glass bottles comes with a nostalgic factor.

Brothers Eric and Ryan Berley took the Golden Siphon trophy home to Philly.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“It’s a part of many people’s histories,” Gomberg said. “We get a lot of positive responses from everybody who doesn’t even realize that we’re still doing this in business. Everything about this business is positive. Even the name Brooklyn Seltzer Boys, there’s nothing better than Brooklyn.”

Spectator Kieran Ganon from Chelsea told Brooklyn Paper that as a seltzer and New York City history lover, the event was “right up his alley.”

“It was great having all these different places that make the best egg creams compete,” Ganon, a musician who named his band “Seltzer,” said. “It was such a hoot seeing passion surrounding egg cream and seltzer in general.”