Frog Memories

Monday afternoon I got word that my friend Eunice lost her battle with cancer. It got me thinking about how certain events and people in your life – like a post-college restaurant job I had when I was twenty one could turn out to be extraordinary. 
Frog restaurant was part of Philadelphia’s restaurant renaissance in the early 1970s, it opened in 1973 by Steve Poses on a shoestring budget of $35,000 on 16th and Spruce. Seven years later, it moved to a grander space at 1524 Locust Street. I had graduated from college and ran into Alem, a hostess I worked with one summer, she suggested I apply for a job there.
The next thing I knew, I was working on the line at Frog under executive chef Moh Azzizi. God only knows how I got hired there, I was a culinary hick. Platters of vegetables were called crudites, asparagus was white, calf’s liver was delicious, and I discovered that you could eat ice cream with chopsticks if there were no spoons. Moh was a sweetheart, I learned a tremendous amount about good food from him. He sensed that I was culinarily gun shy and would bring a small plate of some sort of meat over to my station. I would ask what it was, and he’d say, “It’s food, EAT IT!” I did what I was told, only to find out that I’d just ingested rattlesnake, eel, or the thymus gland of a calf, but I also discovered that I kind of liked it! Although my time in the kitchen at Frog was short lived, this is where my interest in cooking and love of food began.

Working forty hours a week in the kitchen left little time to pursue what I went to college for – illustration. I made the jump from the kitchen to the floor as a waiter – more money, less hours, and time to work as a freelance illustrator. But there was another bonus – the people I worked with. It was The Island of Misfit Toys – actors, painters, Penn dental students, musicians, people working their way through grad school, a house renovation, and those who weren’t quite sure what they wanted to do – somehow it was a good fit. Everyone was so different, and talented, and smart, and funny.

We wore pink oxford shirts with bow ties, piped butter into ramekins, changed tablecloths without exposing the padded table underneath, managed to get a handle on an extensive menu, wine list, and daily specials. Arms laden with entrees, we dodged unruly children on Mother’s Day, juggled large parties on Penn grad weekends, hauled cases of wine from the basement to a private party room on the third floor, and pulled each other out of the weeds.

Those of us in our twenties referred to our co-workers in their *gasp* thirties as the “old hags” or “hags” for short . “Sign up to work the second floor dining room – all the hags are working on the first.” *rolls eyes* All joking aside – we worked hard, waited on the good, the bad, and the quirky, and we laughed – a lot! Thanks to Ma Bell, email, and Facebook, we’ve managed to keep in touch over the years.
 
Eunice was one of those people that with a turn of phrase or a look would have you cracking up at the most inopportune times; as we all know – everything is funnier when you’re not supposed to laugh. To say that I will miss her is an understatement. The message on Monday from Pat read,“…sorry to be the bearer but that was such a fine time we all got to spend together back then…”

Indeed Pat. It was extraordinary.
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25 Responses to Frog Memories

  1. H.D. Motyl says:

    This is lovely, Tina. I loved my time at Frog and it’s really all because of the people there–and the opportunity to love food more than I thought possible. But the people, on the floor, in the kitchen, behind the bars. Amazing. And still my friends today. Eunice was one of those wonderful, crazy people–and she may have been the craziest. It’s sad to think that I could never see her, at least in person, because I always have the memories of her.

  2. Tina says:

    Thank you Howard.
    The day I got married, I walked out of the church and Richard Esposto was standing there. We quickly caught up – how are you, where are you working, what’s going on? Then he looked around and said, “So, who got married?” I rolled my eyes and said, “I DID!” Then, I punched him in the arm.

    She’ll be missed, a great group of people, I have so many good memories from that time.

  3. Theresa BrownGold says:

    Just as I remember it. Thx, Tina. What an extraordinary time. We were all wrapped up with where we were going to fully appreciate it. And Eunice….o man, what a powerhouse. A little piece of our FROG selves left with her.

  4. Kass says:

    Beautiful, Tina! It WAS a great time. I remember those staff dinners AFTER service, laughing so hard (usually because of Eunice) that I could barely keep the food down. The collection of misfits was truly a magical FIT….but HAGS? Seriously! : D

  5. Tina says:

    Theresa – So many things have been running through my head in the past few days – the great bento box experiment, Sumi playing in the “whine” bar, the sound of Chris’ laughter coming out of the coatroom, and the way everyone flocked around Eunice.

    Kass – Thanks for stopping by. Although we’ve never met – I’ve heard the stories. * raises eyebrow * There aren’t too many places I can say I’ve worked more than twenty years ago, and still stay in touch with the people I worked with. It was a great group of people – and always a blast to work with Eunie! I take no responsibility for “hags” – besides, it was said with the utmost affection! 🙂

  6. Donna McMahon says:

    Thank you for this, Tina. The threads of life once again bring us Frog folks together. It is as lovely as it is sad this time.

  7. Tina says:

    Thanks for stopping by Donna. It is sad, yet comforting to see the impression she’s left in everyone’s memories of that time.

  8. pat branch says:

    i never used the word hags…& tina, if you’ve never met kass, you must yourself down the shore, post haste!!!

  9. pat branch says:

    errr… *get yourself down the shore

  10. Liz (Leitner) Moser says:

    One of the last times I saw Eunice she had a big old belly full with child and clothed in oxford cloth and black (or khaki) pants and her great pixie grin. RIP Eunie!

  11. Karl says:

    Now I never worked at the Frog but of course married to Kass I felt like I did…I did try to sneak into your Thai staff dinners before my shift at Elan and if Kass was working & I wasn’t would hang in the “Whine Bar” listening to Sumi…everyone I knew working would come down with their “stories”. I was envious…LOL

  12. Tina says:

    Pat – I think “hag” may have been Ron’s brainchild. Give Kass my contact info and tell her I’m free all next summer!

    LIZ!!!! It’s been a long time – so nice to hear from you. I think that child is in college now!

    I was hoping when I wrote this that people would come around and post their memories of Eunice, thanks everyone!

  13. A dream that I have at least once a year, I can’t find my “Pink Oxford cloth shirt” . Then somehow, someone lends me one in time to work the “Deuces” (my favorite station).
    I bet it was Eunice.

    I am proud to have worked with all of you.In a way Frog taught me more about humanity than any other job .
    I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

  14. Tina says:

    Karl – You worked at Elan – wasn’t that in the Warwick? I’ll bet you have some good stories….

    Sumi was amazing – someone once referred to it as the dungeon, it’s a shame that more people didn’t frequent the bar. But you had an “in” so I imagine you had an endless supply of entertainment – cocktails AND a show!

  15. pat branch says:

    susan, i remember once when you thought you’d heard something running across the drop ceiling panels of the the non smoking room. clearly a rodent of some sort, but by the time you were done embellishing what it sounded like for bill sarkees he said it sounded more like a small dog. this & the chris fuentes fendi fur incident are 2 moments that stick out. well & eunice & i standing in front of the line waiting for our entrees; after she’d had zachy & finally (finally!) returned to frog. i asked if she’d had to have one of those “…episiotomies”. she looked @ me w/ that deadpan face & said, “severe rectal tearing. they stitched me up, sent me home, & told me to sit down & do nothing for a few weeks.” after a second, she added, with even more deadpan face, ‘…sit down?” it is to this day best face in the world.

  16. Tina says:

    Susan – The restaurant nightmares never end! The pink shirts are gone, but I still have my apron neatly folded in my sock drawer. I like to think of it as my badge of honor.

  17. JT says:

    Wow.

    This post and the comments are one of the coolest things I ever read.

    Eunice sounds like quite a dame. God bless her and rest in peace.

    And best of luck and life to all of you.

  18. Tina says:

    Thank you for your kind words JT.
    She left an indelible mark on all of us.

  19. Rick Kenny (scooter) says:

    Tina…thanks for sharing, staff meals were always a not to be missed event….I remember Eunice’s funny way of standing at the line with her hands on her hips and her elbows poking out…dressing down the cooking staff with her eyes…or ribbing me about something….of course I was a young pup back then (not even legal drinking age when Howie hired me), Euni was like a mother hen and tried to keep me out of trouble…many fond memories of fellow staff members….my first job in Philly and I’m still in town today…..(by the way for me “Hags” was always a term of endearment)……I was twenty…..Thanks Tina….and Rest in Peace “Funny Lady”.

  20. Tina says:

    My first week in the kitchen, I was a nervous wreck and Eunice was so sweet to me. She joked around to make me feel at ease, and downplayed the orders I screwed up. I never forgot that.

    I think I had worked there for several months until I knew what your real name was, because no one called you Rick.

    Do you remember the night you, Ossie, and I had a secret contest to see who could do the most work in John Naccarato’s (deuces) station without his knowledge? I can’t remember who won, but I do remember we kept score, and we were hysterical because John HATED anyone messing with his station!

  21. Rick says:

    Tina – almost forgot you started on the line before becoming a “tron”…..yes Johhny Nocc was very “anal” about his work station….his pressed shirt….his stiff bowtie…I thought I was a control freak…whats he doin today I wonder.

  22. Tina says:

    I was at his apartment once – not a speck of dust, not a thing out of place – it was amazing. I dunno, he’s not on FB – I was thinking about him one day and started searching around – nothing turned up. I loved John!

  23. Lori says:

    That’s very sad, Tina. She was young.

  24. Tina says:

    I know, it’s hard to believe.

  25. William Sarkees says:

    I always had a great time when Eunice was working with me although I loved working with everybody at Frog.
    I won’t forget her acid wit and the sound of her laugh. I worked the piano bar on Sunday nights and the business was dismal. The only good thing was to be able to listen to Sumi playing and if she wasn’t there, she had the father of Curtis Harmon from Pieces of a Dream substitute. I didn’t understand why people didn’t come in to hear them play. I did love working there and I have a story about Susan Kehoe but someone stop me from talking!!!!!! Thanks Tina, your words bring me back to a time I will always cherish.

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