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Comfort Food. Or in this case, Drink. - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
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Comfort Food. Or in this case, Drink.

Three full days away from the clients only meant that they would return today with a vengeance.  One result of that was I wound up with an unexpected dead wait of over 90 minutes in downtown Buffalo- with no computer, files to work on, or much to do in the present.

So instead I went into the past.

In the first not-quite-third of my rememberable life, lived on Long Island, neighborhoods were closer and more predictable. Your supermarket was within walking distance of your home, and you, with either your mother or your friends, would walk there as often as getting in the car.  It was smaller, dirtier and way less fancy than the W-arehouses of Wonder we now take for granted.  Almost always, it was in a plaza- with a bank, a drugstore (rarely a chain but always an old-fashioned one with the big platform in the back and a delivery car), a specialty store or six,.... and almost always, an ancestor of today's fast food chains known as a luncheonette.

There were at least six in East Meadow I can remember, by location if not name. Bob's and Braun's were the closest, each within a mile west and east of our childhood home- Bob's in the Lakeville Plaza with the supermarket and specialty stores (including a hardware store and the Ding Dong Chinese Kitchen); Braun's, run by the family who lived across Powers Avenue from us, in a smaller strip next to a deli and a bar.  Another small plaza on Prospect across from the pool had one; another was further up Newbridge Avenue toward the library; the Food Fair plaza at Merrick and Front also had one (Moe's, maybe?); and closer to Levittown, on Newbridge Road (kitty-corner from Dino My Discount Orthodontist), was Haven's.  That one made a comeback under a later retro name to get its own Yelp review, which preserved a picture of the inside from it, showing the distinctive luncheonette counter we all knew:

Johnny B's Coffee Shop - East Meadow, NY, United States

(Okay, not the lottery screens or the surveillance camera warning, but still.)

These were our general stores, our Mickey D's, our hangouts.  This is where we'd buy our baseball cards and sneak peeks at the girlie magazines on the top shelves of the newsstands in front.  (Moe, in particular, could stare you down into oblivion if your eyes even began to look up from the newspapers on the bottom rack.)  Their menus were short and simple: eggs in the morning, burgers in the afternoon, maybe a sandwich if the Boar's Head truck had them on their delivery route.  Washing it down was most likely a Coke; almost all of them were branded outside with the red script, like this one still preserved in amber in Brooklyn-
 time-machine one from Brooklyn

-or, if you'd made some money selling or scaling your baseball cards and you wanted a treat, you could order up a sundae or an ice cream soda from that counter. In between, though, was a cheap delicacy- that fountain of false advertising, good to the last spritzy drop, known as an egg cream.

Try explaining that to a non-native: an egg cream is a drink containing no egg and no cream.  This piece from 2014 will tell you everything you need to know about the name, the tradition, even the secrets of the recipe. In particular, it commands you to keep your grubby little mitts off those hoi poloi Nestle Quik syrups, or even the fancier-schmancier Dove-type things we likely have somewhere in our own fridge.  Can there be only one choice for the critical ingredient?

U-Bet!

Syrup of choice: Fox’s u-bet 20-oz. Syrup Chocolate 22-oz. A Brooklyn original. Now here is a little tid bit that not too many people know. The time of year when you buy this syrup makes a difference. All year long Fox’s u-bet syrup is swettened with corn syrup…except during Passover. That is when they use 100% real cane sugar to sweeten the syrup. And that makes all the difference in the world to the taste of your egg cream. Is this too extreme? Not for egg cream lovers. You can’t use Hersey syrup or Nestle powder or bosco. So when Passover comes around it’s time to stock up on your Fox’s u-bet Chocolate Flavor Syrup. And how would you know it’s the right time to buy and your not getting the other stuff? At the top of the bottle is a shrink wrap plastic safety quality seal. And printed on that wrapper is the Kosher for Passover seal. Don’t buy it with out it.

There are similar warnings about the quality of the milk (whole only) and seltzer (real Looney Tunes pressurized stuff, none of that Canada Dry bottled club soda shit), but the U-Bet is the true mark of excellence. 

It's been years since I've had the experience. In the late 80s, Wegmans in Rochester carried a Chicago-based flavored chocolate soda which came as close as anything, but its name and provenance are lost to memory.  For years, I'd get my fix at Hal's Deli in Ithaca- not a luncheonette in the Brooklyn/Long Island sense, but they had the counters and stools and the recipe; alas, my last two trips, I've had to settle for a can of Dr. Brown's original cream soda.

And yet today, 400 miles away from Haven's and Moe's, I found it.

----

Downtown Buffalo has been declining since I got here- urban renewal and an ill-fated subway/transit mall project killed off most of Main Street's retail and traffic- but it's finally begun a turnaround. Inspired by major medical developments at the north end of downtown and by sports-entertainment pockets at the south end, apartments are popping up in old stores and lofts, share-the-road cars are returning, and within the past month I learned of a small storefront across from the Hyatt trying out a beloved concept:

Black and brown cows. Wet walnut sundaes. Black and white ice cream sodas. New York Egg creams.

These old-fashioned soda fountain favorites are among the menu offerings at Jerk’s Soda Fountain & Ice Cream, Buffalo’s first downtown ice cream parlor in decades.

The ice cream shop, which opened April 16 at 523 Main St., joins newcomers Raclette’s and D’Avolio on the revived 500 block of Main Street. Just Fries, which like Jerk’s is owned by John Volpe and Don Warfe, and Martin Cooks are also planning to open just around the corner on Genesee Street.

Make no mistake: this is not the luncheonette of my misspent Ute.  No stools, no baseball cards or magazines, dirty or otherwise.  But a real egg cream? I'd wanted to check this out, and today's layover gave me my chance:



John, in t-shirt and shorts and not the bowtied look, was cleaning the patio when I got over there after court- and sadly, I had a half-hour wait before they would open at noon.  I managed.  Once inside, I ordered up the advertised product (which clearly discloses on their menu that it has no eggs in it #asif) and watched as the counter grrl did the drill:

Whole milk from the fridge? Check.

Spoon in the glass? Check.

Plenty of syrups behind that counter, but I could tell that the key ingredient was the essential U-Bet.  (I didn't pry to see if it has the kosher-for-passover mark on it. One does not tempt one's fate that much.)

The seltzer, from a pressurized bottle.  Portions, measured with fingers, not measuring cups.

Two dollars and twenty five cents, plus a substantial tip.

Priceless.

The 12:30 hearing was pedestrian. The rest of my afternoon, ordinary.  How was I gonna beat that? Not with a stick, and certainly not with an egg;)

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Comments
warriorsavant From: warriorsavant Date: June 1st, 2016 01:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Bravo for egg creams (even if, as noted, technically false advertising). Also for luncheonettes.

Edited at 2016-06-01 01:58 am (UTC)
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