Petey Freeman moved to Carroll Gardens from Hawaii to open the Brooklyn Farmacy back in June. The Farmacy gained plenty of attention before it opened, thanks to its previous incarnation as the historic, long-shuttered Vermont Pharmacy and a boost from the Discovery Channel’s Construction Intervention.
Freeman was outspoken in his plans to create an old-school soda fountain that would dispense the new Brooklyn locavorganic gospel along with seltzer and sustainably sourced dairy. So certain was he of his soda-jerk prowess that Freeman took an Overflow magazine reporter to Hinsch’s, the 62-year-old Bay Ridge luncheonette beloved by generations for its fountain drinks and plainspoken diner food, and proceeded to dis its egg cream. “You gotta be on your ‘A’ game, even though it’s just an egg cream,” he sniffed. “You never know who you’re dealing with. You always gotta make the best egg cream possible. That’s my mission statement — to make the tastiest egg cream in Brooklyn.”
So did he succeed? Did a Hawaii transplant, freshly arrived to bestow upon the natives organic dairy products and tasteful whimsy, get one over on the oldsters? We decided to find out.
First, we went to Brooklyn Farmacy. It has indeed been beautifully restored, from its intricate tile floors up to its stamped tin ceiling. Its wooden shelves were crowded with small-batch products like Anarchy in a Jar jams, Koeze peanut butter, and Morris Kitchen’s Ginger Syrup, and a display of adorable knitted children’s clothing fanned out near the doorway.
At the counter, we ordered a $2.50 egg cream to go from a woman who responded “of course” when we asked if the drink was made with Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup, a product for which egg cream fanatics love to insist there is no earthly substitute. For the record, it’s also made with Hudson Valley Fresh whole milk, which lent the drink a gorgeous frothy head.
We took the egg cream outside, stuck a straw in it, and sipped. The seltzer offered plenty of fizz and tingle, and the syrup and dairy created what was in effect very good chocolate milk. All told, it was an extremely solid egg cream.
So it was on to Bay Ridge, where Hinsch’s crimson neon sign and low-slung green awning have beckoned Fifth Avenue passersby since 1948. Inside, there were no knitted children’s hats for sale, but there was plenty of Formica, chrome, and wood paneling. A small flock of elderly waitresses tended to diners in an unhurried but attentive fashion, and welcomed new arrivals with, “Sit wherever you like.”
The egg cream at Hinsch’s costs $2. It is not made with U-Bet, but from syrup made on the restaurant’s premises. And it is most likely not made from organic milk. Still, its combination of syrup, seltzer, and milk tasted … almost exactly like Brooklyn Farmacy’s. As the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” played in the background, we sipped and sipped, trying to find any major, egregious differences that would have made the egg cream so deserving of Freeman’s disdain. But we couldn’t, though the milk wasn’t quite as frothy as the Farmacy’s. Otherwise, it, like Freeman’s creation, was an extremely solid egg cream, one worthy of Lou Reed’s nostalgia.
Really, the only differences we discerned between the two egg creams were their surroundings. And while we admired the Brooklyn Farmacy’s impeccable renovation, we were more moved by Hinsch’s un-self-conscious, slightly dog-eared beauty. Nobody there is trying to best anybody or prove anything, and while Freeman has indeed succeeded in creating a very tasty egg cream, Hinsch’s utter lack of pretension makes theirs go down a little easier.
8518 Fifth Avenue, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
513 Henry Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
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