Dimitrios “Jimmy” Avgerinos, a Greek immigrant who was the founder and chef of Greektown’s popular Acropolis restaurant, died Sept. 19 from aortic stenosis at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The Perry Hall resident was 73.
“A hardworking man. A generous man. A family man. His work was his life,” said Nick Georgalas of Glen Arm, the chef-owner of Samos Restaurant on Oldham Street in Greektown. “He was always smiling and happy that you came to his restaurant. We’ve lost a good citizen and an important member of the Greek community.”
“Jimmy made all of the traditional Greek dishes such as pastitsio, stuffed grape leaves, lamb chops and fresh fish. They were all really good,” said Sam Kosmas, a resident of the city’s Bayview neighborhood.
“On Sundays, he’d make honeyballs, loukoumades, which are a fried dough. They’re little balls that are crunchy and covered with honey and cinnamon,” Mr. Kosmas said. “Jimmy would have a plate of them on every table for the customers and they were on the house.”
Dimitrios Avgerinos, the son of George Avgerinos, who worked for H & S Bakery, and his wife, Eftehia Avgerinos, a homemaker, was born and raised in Kourounis, Greece.
He left school when he was 14 and Joined the Greek merchant marine, learning a trade as a ship’s cook. “From a young boy, I’ve worked in restaurants. I was 13 years old and I helped the chef,” Mr. Avgerinos told the blog Welcome to Baltimore, Hon! in 2012.
After giving up the sea, he emigrated from Chios, Greece, to Baltimore in 1970.
“A land of opportunity and good people,” he said in the interview. “I dreamed about cooking here. My grandfather told me how good America was, and from the first day I arrived in America, I have been happy here.”
Mr. Avgerinos cooked at Ikaros, George’s Beef & Beer and Jimmy’s Seafood before opening his own place in 1987 in the 4700 block of Eastern Ave. in the heart of Baltimore’s Greek community.
“He started with nothing and through a lot of hard work was able to open his own place, which became a Greektown landmark,” Mr. Georgalas said.
“It takes guts to open a Greek restaurant across the street from the beloved Ikaros, but the Acropolis is good enough to give the older spot some real competition," a Baltimore Sun food critic wrote in a 1989 review.
“Everyone in the neighborhood worked there at one time or another,” said Mr. Kosmas. “I grew up in the Greektown neighborhood and worked there for six or seven years as a waiter while going to school. My wife also worked there.”
The Acropolis had a well-earned reputation for serving up ample portions to satisfy the hungriest of guests.
“To say that Baltimore’s Greek eateries are famous for abundant portions at modest prices is like saying that Stonehenge is a nice arrangement of rocks,” wrote the 1989 Sun reviewer. “One never leaves less than stuffed, or without a doggy bag tucked under an arm.”
In describing pastitsio, the classic macaroni dish, the reviewer opined, “No goopy Italiante sauce on top, just bountiful, unadorned layers of tender pasta, gently spiced ground beef, and silky, subtle bechamel. The brick-size portion was Brobdingnagian (or ‘colossal’ would be a more Hellenic adjective); luckily, it tasted even better reheated for the next day’s lunch.”
“He had a unique style of cooking,” Mr. Georgalas said. “He combined traditional Greek cooking along with seafood dishes from Chios.”
It wasn’t uncommon for Mr. Avgerinos to put in 18-hour days.
“He’d be there from 6 a.m. to past midnight getting ready for the next day,” Mr. Kosmas said. “I don’t remember ever coming to work and not seeing Jimmy there.”
Mr. Avgerinos’ personality was as expansive as the food he served.
“He was a very warm and friendly person. Everyone was a friend,” Mr. Kosmas said. " Customers would go back to the kitchen to talk to Jimmy, or he would come out to their tables."
The Acropolis was a family affair. His wife, the former Despina Moniodis, a native of Chios whom he married in 1974, prepares all of the restaurant’s rolls and pastries.
His son, George Avgerinos, a Fallston resident, started working in the restaurant when he was 12 as a busboy, and then moved up to being a dishwasher, waiter and is now chef, since his father’s retirement in 2011.
“I think one of my father’s signature dishes was lamb,” his son said. “Lamb. Lamb. Lamb. It was always lamb."
Arnold B. Fruman, a Pikesville resident, has been dining at the Acropolis for more than 25 years..
“Jimmy was definitely old school. His restaurant and kitchen were his home,” Mr. Furman said. “He got up everyday before dawn to buy the provisions for the day. He never slowed down and worked himself to the bone.”
He described Mr. Avgerinos as being 'honorable, family-oriented, humble and dedicated."
“He had time for everybody. He was a rare guy,” Mr. Furman said. “His family and restaurant were his life.”
Mr. Avgerinos enjoyed gardening.
He was an active member of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, 520 S. Ponca St., Greektown, where funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday.
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Avgerinos is survived by his daughter, Paraskevi Luebben of Perry Hall; two brothers, Vasilios Avgerinos of Dundalk and Yianni Avgerinos of Greektown; two sisters, Maria Kornias of Baltimore and Barbara Kyriakalki of Athens, Greece; and five grandchildren.