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Gem Spa Is A Hidden Treasure And Makes The Best Egg Cream In New York City

October 4, 2011

Gem Spa's delicious, expert Egg Cream.

One of the most iconic, and certainly one of the most endangered, New York City foods is the Egg Cream. The name alone is enough to put most folks off. Perhaps folks think that somewhere in the drink there’s some raw egg whites, or something, that justifies its unusual nomenclature. You can rest assured there is no egg in an egg cream. If there ever was, it hasn’t been part of the ingredients list for more than 100 years. So no worries – just go get one.

For the uninitiated, an Egg Cream has a quite simple list of ingredients: vanilla or chocolate syrup, some milk (a splash?), and a hefty portion of seltzer. Those ingredients, when applied in the proper proportion, render a delicious beverage that ideally is sweet, without being overly so. It is almost impossible in the modern era to find an Egg Cream that is not too sweet. Allow me to introduce you to the keeper of the flame in NYC, Gem Spa.

Gem Spa was introduced to me more than 20 years ago by a buddy of mine who tantalized me with the promise of an Egg Cream. He then promptly walked into a magazine shop on Astor Place. I waited outside, reckoning we were going to some restaurant or ice cream shop, but he stood at the door and ushered me in.

They didn't use to advertise the Egg Cream. I guess they've wised up.

Not much has changed, except now the Gem Spa is advertising their Egg Cream. There’s a chalkboard sign they put outside the door, and on the exterior of the building there’s an image on an Egg Cream on their marquee in the corner. Other than that, though, you’d never know one of the last great soda fountains in New York City is within.

Doesn't look any different than any other magazine shop.

Looking around the narrow shop, you’ll see the usual assortment of magazines, candy, gadgets and other miscellany you’d expect from just another magazine store. It’s behind the counter where the magic happens.

Authentic syrup pumps.

The first clue, if you gaze over the counter, is the syrup dispensers. When you order an Egg Cream, the first step is to place a cup under one of the syrup spigots and then the dutiful counterman shall squirt in three long spurts of your chosen flavor. You’ll notice four spigots: I am only aware of (and can only recommend) the vanilla and chocolate, and don’t know what’s in the two other pumps.

After the thrice-pumping of the syrup, a dollop of milk is added to the cup. There is perhaps some stirring, and then the next step is attended to.

An authentic soda fountain.

Behold the old-school soda fountain. Why have these become so hard to find? I guess technology has eclipsed them. After all, Coca-Cola started out as just a syrup to be mixed with the seltzer (just like vanilla and chocolate). Now modern soda fountains can automatically mix (as you’ll see at any movie theater or fast food restaurant). But a well tended soda fountain allows for love, for that certain je ne sais quoi, for slight variations in recipes that can leave beautiful results. Importantly, it allows for a generous serving of seltzer, which is what is required to keep the concoction from being too sweet.

Tall and sweet, just $2.50.

As it turns out, that je ne sais quoi is the key ingredient. What makes the Gem Spa Egg Cream so delicious is that you can still taste the seltzer, soothing your palette. I prefer the vanilla, myself, but you can’t go wrong with the chocolate. Either way, this place is a treasure, and well worth your time and $2.50. Please keep the goodness flowing, Gem Spa owners.

Gem Spa

131 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003
No website
212.995.1866
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