A Look Back at Friday Saturday Sunday’s First Review
With the final days of Friday Saturday Sunday under owners Jamie and Weaver Lilley coming up quickly. We reached into the Philadelphia magazine archives to find the 42-year old restaurant’s first review.
The review is by restaurant critic Jim Quinn, who in the October 1973 issue of the magazine reviewed Friday Saturday Sunday and Thursday Too (as it was known) as well as Astral Plane and Frog, two other restaurants that history shows were part of what we now refer to as, Philadelphia’s first restaurant renaissance. Even in its earliest days, it was clear that these restaurants were something special.
Waiter, There’s a Long Hair in My Vichyssoise
by Jim Quinn
The War Babies are greening the gourmet restaurant scene.
“We can change the world!”
That’s what all those revolutionary rock groups sang back in 1968—the year the last of the War Baby generation graduated from college to find Richard Nixon elected President, the war in Vietnam continuing, and not a single decent medium-priced restaurant in the city of Philadelphia. In those dark days, a dinner date meant a visit to a Chinese, Italian or seafood restaurant.
Well, time passed; and some things changed more than others. Rock groups gave up revolution for space ships and pancake makeup. The war turned into a permanent cease-fire violation. Richard Nixon remains (nominally, at least) the President.
The War Baby generation may have changed most of all; from student radical to young professional, increasingly domestic. Houseplants replaced political posters; real antiques crept in amongst the junkshop Tiffany; and Julia Child converted every macrobiotic cook in town.
And when the War Babies discovered that there were no places in the city to satisfy their budding gourmet lusts, they simply fell back on the tactics of participatory democracy and opened their own. In the past year, Several new, medium-priced restaurants have opened, almost all of them collectively owned and operated (sometimes on a part-time basis) by the War Baby generation.
Former schoolteacher and dancer Tom Hunter is the only full-timer at Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Thursday Too. The other partners include Jeanine Autret of the Daily News, advertising’s Arnie Roberts, photographer Weaver Lilley, carpenter Bud Bretschneider, former psychologist Jay Gubin and ironically, Anne Perrier, wife of Le Bec Fin’s George.
Grown-up War Babies Robert Selke and Reed Apaghian find operating Astral Plane a full time job. Selke’s a former schoolteacher and Apaghian decided there were better ways to make a living than waiting for Actor’s Equity to call.
Before Frog’s Steven Poses learned how to cook in the kitchens at La Panetière, he taught at the Greentree School. And his brother, Frederic, left a cushy job as a financial analyst with Allied Chemical in New York for tearing up Boston lettuce. Both had been in the Peace Corps.
The atmosphere in these places is casual, friendly and homey. There is no dress code, but there are lots of those pretty hanging plants called Wandering Jew (such an embarrassing anti-Semitic name that they are frequently re-christened Creeping Jesus). The chairs and tables, the plates and silver, are all mismatched; there’s rock music on the tape deck; and the cooking is inspired amateur rather than professional, cookbook gourmet rather than French. Best of all, the food tastes good.
Here’s what I think of these three new restaurants. They’re arranged roughly in order of price and quality —from best and cheapest to worst and most expensive.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Thursday Too (B-)
Named after the days it’s open, this pretty little restaurant serves a complete dinner for about $6 a person. That’s about as much as you’d expect to spend, post-freeze, in Chinatown or South Philadelphia, for less food and a lot less atmosphere.
At FSSATT (to give it a convenient acronym) bolt ends of fancy cottons have been sewn together in long strips and draped across the ceiling tent-fashion, giving the place the air of a set for a camp musical based on the Sheik of Araby. There are little plasticized tables, green plants, and no paintings on the walls (always a blessing in a restaurant). It’s hard to remember, looking at it, that this was once the ugliest coffeehouse in the city.
The crowd is very young, and very casual, and still small enough so that FSSATT does not take reservations: But that will probably change. There is no bar, so bring your own wine–and bring it cold, if it’s white. They’ll open it free.
Garlic soup (85¢) tops the list of appetizers. It’s a thin gruel heavily flavored with garlic, served with a big chunk of toasted bread floating in it and covered with what seems to be powdered cheddar cheese. Mix it all together and it’s only mildly interesting. Country Pâté ($1.25) seems as if it was made in a blender, and is not the chunky little liver loaf you expect; but it is excellent anyway, flavored with Madeira and made with pork as well as chicken liver, giving it a subtly bitter winey flavor. Ceviche ($1.50) is raw rock fish, marinated in olive oil, pickled peppers and coriander so it has the texture of cooked fish. It is the most expensive appetizer, but you can afford to splurge here and it is extremely good. Squash soup ($1) is also excellent: a thin cream soup with the color and flavor of yellow squash, like a lighter and better flavored vichyssoise. All the appetizers are large for the price.
There are both hot and cold entrées—and, possibly because of the temperature of the kitchen, the hot ones seem better. Mousseline of flounder ($4) is a big patty of excellent flounder forcemeat, served over tasty oily rice with an accompaniment of buttered squash. Considering the size and price, it is an outstanding bargain. Curried chicken ($3.25) is also big and very good: three pieces of breast and a drumstick, served in medium hot curry sauce, with bits of fresh fruit, coconut and a tangy little splat of homemade tomato chutney. Chili Elizabeth Taylor ($3.25) sounds like a Gourmet Magazine special—cheap food gussied up and fussed over— but it is too much fun for that. A little Horn & Hardart chicken pot pie pot is filled with lean ground beef, topped with a dozen or so fiery chili peppers, then a lid of good cornmeal dough, and baked til it’s done. The beans are served on the side: black beans, topped with a tomato onion mixture that is almost, but not quite, as spicy as the tomato chutney. Mix and match as you eat along—it is all powerfully hot, and delicious; the former Mrs. Burton eats it with beer, which is probably a good idea.
There is some mildly disappointing food at FSSATT. Mousse of chicken ($3.75) is prettily served, with excellent accompaniments of cold string beans and tomato wedges covered with a slurp of mustardy sauce. But the mousse has the homogenized texture of the country pâté—or would, except that it seems to be melting all over the plate. A big soft scoop of ugly jelly (the color of the stuff you skim off the top of your chicken stock), it is covered with a very good sour cream mayonnaise and fancy capers. If you like the texture of baby food, you might find this stuff edible before it turns to gray water in the bottom of the plate. Shashlik ($3.50) is an occasional special, and is nothing more than big chunks of cheap lamb, overlemoned and overcooked, served on a bed of kasha. The kasha is excellent, for kasha, with a texture like wild rice instead of the usual oatmeal; but it’s still the dullest starch since grits. Salmon en croute ($5.50) is a fat slice of salmon loaf in good crust, served with mustard flavored mayonnaise. Sometimes it tastes like salmon and sometimes like unsweetened bread pudding, but it’s always too warm.
The waitress will tell you that the desserts are made haphazardly, by whoever feels like doing it. That is the kind of information that ordinarily strikes terror in a diner’s heart, but at FSSATT the desserts are excellent. Somebody on the staff really knows how to make fancy tortes and always feels like doing it. At $1 they are extraordinary. Coeur de la crème is a sweet-sour little lump of fresh tangy cheese, like the French double-creme, served in a sauce made from fresh blueberries. The fancy rice pudding is mixed with chunks of pineapple and served with raspberry sauce. Both are excellent, but served a little too warm. Crème caramel (85¢) is the single disappointment, small and bland. Good French roast coffee (35¢) keeps coming as long as you are willing to sit around and drink it. All this uncrowded restaurant seems to need to attract mobs is a good service-refrigerator—and maybe a change in policy to a $6 price fixe menu, so people realize how cheap it really is. FSSATT, 261 S. 21st St., KI 6-4232. Dinner Thurs-Sat 5:30-10. Brunch Sun 11-2:30, Differ Sun 5-9:30.
Astral Plane (C+)
The closest thing in center city west to the South Street Renaissance, Astral Plane attracts a mixed crowd of hip fiftyish businessmen, aging hippies and unreconstructed hippies. If you sometimes think these are all the same person, indistinguishable except by the accident of age, you can tell the difference in two main ways: the kind of wine they bring to dinner (imported French, a half gallon of Gallo, and Boone’s Farm Strawberry, respectively); or their feelings about Adlai Stevenson (adoration, disenchantment, and never-heard-of-him, in the same order).
Two vintage bathroom sinks have been turned into elegant planters outside; inside the walls are covered with gorgeous trash, plus a few real and surreal antiques. Beaded evening bags, art deco fans, and faded souvenir pillows along the church pew that serves as a banquette make this place seem like an elegantly freaky home with a party in progress. There is a $1 charge for opening your wine, and Astral Plane is no more successful than FSSATT at getting it cold. They should drop the charge or buy some ice buckets.
The food is a combination of good basic ingredients and imaginative recipes—sometimes too imaginative. Heavenly Hash ($1.50) is a mixture of bits of melon, sour cream, and bite-sized marshmallows. It is an amazing, and, to me, incomprehensible combination that seems sweet and soft and vaguely horrible—like a cure for the Stone Munchies, and not palatable (unless you feel exceptionally heavenly—or hash-ish). Stuffed cucumber ($2.50) is extremely good, a big cuke, hollowed out like an Indian canoe and filled with lots of fresh crabmeat, good mayonnaise and capers. This is big enough to serve as an appetizer for two, and is worth the money. Petite salad (85¢) is also big for the price, and very good: fresh romaine, raw string beans, tomatoes and Chinese bean sprouts in a good, and very non-French, dressing. Cream of celery soup (85¢) is small, but it tastes deliciously of real celery and real cream; zucchini cheese (85¢) is a mixture of fresh zucchini, parmesan cheese and chicken stock. It tastes something like sour minestrone, and is not nearly as good as the cream of celery.
Soft-shell crabs ($5.50), an occásional special, is two freshly sautéed crabs, prettily served with a side of couscous (a North African version of grits, which tastes good), and a few fresh snow peas. It is not large for the price, but it is very good. Curried chicken ($4) is two plump supremes of much better chicken than you get at FSSATT, made with a much worse recipe. The chicken is well-cooked, but the sauce is bland and greasy, and the chunks of apple cooked along with it taste like candied mashed potatoes. There are also a few nutmeats and even a couple of grapes strewn in the sauce, as another indication that the chef sometimes refuses to let well enough alone.
Desserts are big, expensive, and designed for people with a genuine or self-induced sweet tooth. Flaming nut sundae ($1.60) is two scoops of Hagendaas, chocolate syrup, organic peanut butter, chopped nuts, and a banana—topped with a sugar cube that burns all the while you eat it. like a scale model of the eternal flame. Vanilla poached eggs ($2) is small but spectacular. Slices of vanilla ice cream are topped with tiny canned apricot halves and laid atop pieces of date-nut bread, it really doés look like poached eggs, even up close; so if you discount half the price for design and execution, it’s a bargain. Coffee (55¢) is served mixed with cinnamon. The combination isn’t unpleasant, but there’s no reason why the menu shouldn’t warn you. Or why you shouldn’t be able to get a cup of plain old coffee if you want to. But the cream pitcher is filled with real cream (something you won’t find at many Philadelphia restaurants, regardless of price); the candle-lit room is filled with odd little objects (like a tiny Aunt Jemima salt shaker, left over from the bad old days); the service seems genuinely friendly and the furniture is gargoyle-glorious. Add a little raw sugar from the sugar bowl to that funny tasting coffee, and try it again; you could do a lot worse, and pay a lot more. ASTRAL PLANE, 1708 Lombard St., KI 5-4935, Lunch Mon-Fri 12-2:30; Dinner Mon-Sun 6-11.
Frog is a deep dark restaurant, filled with green formica tables, old Grand Rapids dining room set chairs, paintings that look like B+ projects by PCA undergraduates—and lots and lots of nifty plants. The plants are fancier than those at Astral Plane or FSSATT; older, more expensive, and sometimes more attractive, even though they’re beginning to show signs of wear. The customers are like that, too. You might hear the couple next to you discussing traffic problems of the Main Line or Roosevelt Boulevard exit from the expressway. Or discussing what I-95 will do to townhouse values. They are a cheerful, talkative bunch, and Frog, the only restaurant of the four without its own Muzak, is sometimes a little too loud.
Start with drinks. At $1.25 they are strong and extremely well-made. You can order California wine by the decanter with dinner, but it’s a better idea to make the bartender work and order Sangria ($6.25 a big pitcher), which is freshly made and strong enough to double as an after-dinner brandy.
When Frog first opened, it had an unpretentious menu-like FSSATT, with slightly higher prices and a slightly more elegant atmosphere. The atmosphere is still intact, but the chef has for some reason started loading up the menu with standard French restaurant standbys—some of which are dull and some of which are simply not well-made.
Croustade of shrimp ($2.75) is good, but bland and very small for the price. Five medium shrimp are carefully curled around each other atop a good pastry shell, and covered with what the menu calls hollandaise–although it tastes like an ordinary White sauce. Onion soup ($1.25) tastes as if the chef made it carefully, With gruyère cheese instead of the ordinary emmenthaler and good beef stock and lots of browned onions, then threw in a spoonful of raw flour. It still tastes good, but it’s not worth the money, Blueberry soup ($1.50) is a small bowl of what looks like blueberry yogurt thinned with milk. The blueberries are fresh, but the soup is bland. Mussels in mustard sauce ($1.75) are served in their shells, covered with a smear of good mustard sauce—but so old they seem almost feral, like the taste that fills your mouth when your dentist drills at a cavity. The waitress noticed that I did not finish the mussels, and took its price off the bill without being asked; so Frog gets high marks for service. She also insisted there had never been a problem with the mussels before, and maybe she’s right. But taste the mussels carefully here (and anywhere for that matter) before you swallow.
Duck à l’orange ($5.25) is standard French restaurant food that tastes much better than standard. It is large, lean, tender and tasty. There could be a little more of the extremely good sauce on the plate, and less of the highly-spiced pepper-flavored rice which doesn’t go with the duck and orange flavor. Sweetbreads ($4.75) come with either a lemon butter sauce or a specialty of the house, “au whisky.” The waitress tells you what the au whisky sauce is—a heavy cream sauce. There is no appreciable taste of booze, but there is too much flour; it’s like eating melted playdough. The sweetbreads, however, are very good and very well-cooked; they would be excellent flavored with lemon and butter,
French filter coffee ($1.50 för two) is expensive but so well-served that it’s worth the money. A glass decanter with a little stainless steel plunger that pushes down the grounds, little glass cups in metal holders, it goes very well with the excellent desserts. Hard-to-find fresh fruit (like raspberries) is served with real whipped cream. There is also a very good almond cake ($1.50) and an extremely good crème caramel ($1.25) that costs 40 cents more than the same item as FSSATT and is worth every penny. Frog is really intent on delivering good value for money spent. Even the bread is real French, with good sweet butter served in a tiny soufflé crock. If you stick to simple recipes, good value is what you get. FROG, 254 S. 16th St., PE 5-8882. Lunch Mon-Fr 12-2; Dinner 6-10, Sat 6-11, sun 5:30-9.