Albert Strzegowski, seafood dealer and restaurateur, dies

Albert Louis Strzegowski Jr., who owned and ran an Essex seafood restaurant and carryout and once served 17,000 raw oysters at the old Baltimore City Fair, died of heart failure Monday at his daughter’s York, Pa., home.

He was 70 and had lived in Fells Point and in Eastwood.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Fleet Street, he was the son of Albert L. Strzegowski Sr., and his wife, Marguerite Rippons, a native of Dorchester County’s Hoopersville. Members of her family had been Chesapeake Bay watermen for five decades.

He attended Our Lady of Fatima School and was a 1965 graduate of Calvert Hall College High School. He served in the Army, stationed in Korea.

“My grandfather and uncles were in the seafood business,” Mr. Strzegowski said in a 1982 Evening Sun article, referring to William L. Rippons, who with his five brothers ran the Rippons Brothers packing house on the Eastern Shore. “I grew up in the business. I would go out on their boats, clean fish and unload boats.”

He also worked for his parents, who in 1964 founded Al’s Seafood at Fleet and Wolfe Streets in Fells Point. They established an Essex location in 1976 and another at Belair Road and Northern Parkway a year later. The business operated as a retail carryout and as a seafood wholesaler.

“My father delivered coddies to little corner bars all over town,” said his son, Chad Strzegowski, of the local favorite fishcake made of cod, potatoes and spices. “His seafood was fresh — from the boat to the store.”

His son, who lives in Oliver Beach, now operates the business. He said his father also catered seafood events and worked closely with the owners of the Eastwind, La Fontaine Bleu and Martin’s West.

“He once served 1,500 dozen steamed crabs at Conrad’s Ruth Villa in Bowley’s Quarters,” his son said.

Mr. Strzegowski later closed his Fells Point and Belair Road locations and enlarged the Essex carryout with a 96-seat restaurant in 1982 and a liquor store in 2003. The restaurant is decorated with photos of the men and women in his family who worked on the water.

“He used his mother’s recipes for the homemade cole slaw and potato salad. She helped get the restaurant open,” his son said.

“Al’s has a cozy and unusually quiet air,” said a 1986 Baltimore Sun restaurant review. “The cream style clam chowder was rich, thick and fresh. But what distinguished this bowl was that it was searingly hot. Anyone who handles foods knows knows how tough it is to get creamed soups on the table without heating them so much they begin to break down…”

Another review, a year later, praised the seasoning on the steamed crabs as a “peppery spice mixture that had been finely ground.” The crabs, the review said, were “worthy of a premium price.”

Mr. Strzegowski worked with his wife, Judith Darlene Adams, a hair stylist who was a hostess at the restaurant on busy weekends.

“My father was outgoing and was often joking,” said his son. “Most people weren’t customers, they were like friends to him. He used to say, ‘Laugh in the face of adversity.’ ”

The restaurant made news in 1983 when Walter S. Orlinsky, the former Baltimore City Council president, became a maitre d’hotel following his release from Allenwood federal prison camp after pleading guilty to a single count of extortion.

“When no one else would give him a job, my father did,” said Cara Hierholzer, his daughter, who lives in York, Pa.

“The restaurant has a family welcoming atmosphere,” said Ms. Hierholzer. “Everything was made from scratch from recipes that ran through the family for generations.”

In his free time, Mr. Strzegowski enjoyed playing golf and was a babysitter for his grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at Our Lady of Fatima Church, 6420 E. Pratt Street.

In addition to his son and daughter, survivors include a brother, Dennis Strzegowski of Kent Island; and four grandchildren. His wife of 37 years, a hairstylist who donated her services to lift the spirits of cancer patients, died in 2010.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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