46 Years In, This Philly Restaurant Finally Hit Its Stride
Even famously change-averse Philadelphians love Friday Saturday Sunday.
In the October 1973 issue of Philadelphia magazine, Jim Quinn reviewed a new spot off Rittenhouse Square called Friday Saturday Sunday and Thursday Too. The restaurant critic was so impressed by the ambiance—with its draped-fabric ceiling and walls free of paintings (something he refers to as “always a blessing in a restaurant”)—that he notes, “It’s hard to remember, looking at it, that this was once the ugliest coffeehouse in the city.” While Quinn also appreciated the generous portions of plates like mousseline of flounder and garlic soup, some dishes missed the mark for him (the soup, sprinkled with powdered cheddar cheese, he calls “only mildly interesting”), so the hip new place on the block only scored a B-minus rating.
Part of Philadelphia’s first restaurant renaissance, Friday Saturday Sunday and Thursday Too (a nod to the days it was open) weathered Quinn’s tepid review and, over the next four decades, became a neighborhood institution. In 2015, Chad and Hanna Williams bought the place from one of its original owners, spent 18 months completely transforming it, and reopened in late 2016. A little over two years in, the new Friday Saturday Sunday is no longer serving hefty portions of mousseline forcemeat, but it has officially hit its stride as one of the most dynamic and respected restaurants in the city.
The couple met while working at Amada, a Jose Garces’ restaurant in Old City, and though they weren’t in the market for their own spot at the time, they heard from one of Chad’s vegetable purveyors Friday Saturday Sunday was quietly for sale. Hanna, who grew up in Philly and had spent time at the restaurant’s upstairs Tank Bar, convinced Chad to see the space.
“My parents used to drink at this bar before I was born, so I understood what an institution it was,” she said. “I think we both saw the potential it had, if it was to be reinvented.” She estimates the restaurant’s last makeover was around 1980, so when the couple bought the property, there was a lot of reinventing to do.
Today, the bi-level space is inverted from its original layout—the downstairs has classic black and white-painted wood floors and a swank white marble bar that spans the room from front to back, with stylish, charming touches like a stuffed raven in an ornate golden cage (an homage to the Gilded Cage, the name of coffee shop that predated the original Friday Saturday Sunday back in the 1960s.) Upstairs, what was once the old Tank Bar is now the dining room, with dark leather banquettes and vibrant, larger-than-life wallpaper panels lining the wall.
The food and drink, too, got a fresh update, with a raw bar, cocktails by a team of talented bartenders led by Paul MacDonald, and a dynamic new menu with plates like cured arctic char surrounded by a bright pool of cucumber agua de chile, and seemingly simple roasted Brussels sprouts made brand new with a black walnut crumble and preserved citrus. But it didn’t start out like this. Owing in part to Philadelphians’ famous fear of change, (as demonstrated by that one time South Philly parking laws were updated, and the neighborhood collectively ignored them) and to be fair, the fact that it was such a beloved mainstay spawning over forty years of memories, Hanna and Chad were cautious about introducing too much, too soon.
“We were dealing with Philly’s oldest restaurant guard,” says Chad. “We wanted to keep the doors open, so we tried to be as approachable as possible.” For the customers who were used to the old menu, they kicked things off with dishes like roast chicken and more straightforward homemade pastas.
As the months went on, though, the couple started to introduce ingredients that never made it onto the menu before, in dishes like sweetbread katsu with bone marrow tartar sauce, or morcilla (blood sausage) creste di gallo pasta with sofrito and crispy pork skin. It was tough at first, with regulars of the old FSS asking for old menu items like dijon chicken and mushroom soup, but, Hanna says, they manage to win them over in the end. Customers come in, confused by the restaurant’s new layout, menu, vibe.
“Then they eat Chad’s food, and it’s game over,” she says. While his wife might be biased, the rest of Philly isn’t. The chef has earned praise from the food media, restaurant critics, and diners across the city.
Nowadays, the restaurant is opened six days a week (Tuesday through Sunday) and draws crowds of both former regulars and pretty much anyone else in the city who can score a table or arrive at the bar early enough to snag a seat. The bar opens at three o’clock in the afternoon on weekends as a holdover from back in the day, because old habits die hard. Especially in Philadelphia.