My dad, who grew up in Brooklyn, loves egg creams. When I first visited New York as a young kid, he couldn’t wait for me to try one. Unfortunately, I was not pleased. The frothy, sparkling texture of milk mixed with seltzer water was unexpected and weird. I didn’t get why anyone would choose this concoction over a milkshake.
Luckily, that Brooklyn heritage eventually kicked in, and I grew to like the distinctive combination of chocolate (or vanilla) syrup with seltzer and milk. I even scored major points by tracking down an official egg cream kit (including the original Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup) as a Chanukah present for my dad one year, so egg creams are readily available whenever I visit home.
Still, it’s rare to find a real egg cream on the West Coast, and I had yet to have a non-homemade version outside of New York. Strolling through Bernal Heights one Sunday afternoon, I peered into a storefront and was delighted to see a handmade sign for “EGG CREAMS”, with a clarifying disclaimer: “does not contain egg or cream.”
The place? Paulie’s Pickling, a self-described “Cali-Jewish deli” that’s tucked away in a Bernal Heights storefront on Cortland Avenue with several other small shops. It’s probably the only place where you can order house-cured lox from one counter, and then turn around to buy rare spices or a fancy Japanese knife from another.
I definitely had to order an egg cream. I spied Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup on the counter, but decided to go non-traditional and ordered the Mexican chocolate flavor instead. Also non-traditional but fittingly San Franciscan: the egg cream was hand-mixed for me not in a tall fountain glass, but in a compostable plastic cup:
It was a perfect mix of the old and the new: that familiar, frothy milk and chocolate flavor with a spicy twist!
You can find Paulie’s Pickling at 331 Cortland Avenue in Bernal Heights. Recently, Whole Foods also started stocking their pickled items, but you’ll need to go to the source to enjoy an egg cream.
The shops at 331 Cortland share space on their signs, advertising everything from piroshkis to pickles. Inside, cookies and Bissli Israeli snacks on the Paulie’s counter share close quarters with the high-end Japanese knives and sharpening machines at Bernal Cutlery.