xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Restaurateur Nickolas A. Antonas, former longtime owner of Eastern House in Highlandtown, dies

Nickolas A. Antonas was an avid golfer and a member of Sparrows Point Country Club.
Nickolas A. Antonas was an avid golfer and a member of Sparrows Point Country Club. (Handout / HANDOUT)

Nickolas A. Antonas, the former owner of Highlandtown’s Eastern House restaurant who ran the popular gathering spot for nearly 44 years, died of congestive heart failure Saturday at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. He was 84 and lived in Rosedale and later in Essex.

Born Nickolas Antonios Antonas in Farrell, Pennsylvania, he was the son of Antonios George Antonas, who was also a restaurateur, and his wife, Harriet Karagiannis, a homemaker who assisted at the restaurant. He was a 1955 graduate of Patterson Park High School.

Advertisement

Mr. Antonas began working at his father’s restaurant Town’s Pride, a Conkling Street diner, in the 1950s. He attended the University of Maryland, College Park and took over the family business when his father died of a heart attack.

He met his future wife, Mary Amelia Kos, on a blind date at the Wilson Point Club.

Advertisement
Advertisement

When a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. retail store became vacant on Eastern Avenue, he jumped at the chance to open his own place. He conferred with local business owners about what price to offer the utility for its property and emerged successfully from the negotiations.

Mary and Nickolas A. Antonas with their daughter Harriet Hatzidimitriou at Eastern House in 2006.
Mary and Nickolas A. Antonas with their daughter Harriet Hatzidimitriou at Eastern House in 2006. (Brendan Cavanaugh/Staff / Patuxent Publishing)

“People from Louis J. Smith, the Conkling Street sporting goods store, encouraged him to establish a price,” said his wife, Mary Kos.

The Eastern House became a Highlandtown fixture at the busy crossroads of Conkling Street and Eastern Avenue in 1966.

“It was a special place. I went regularly. It was our favorite place for sour beef, and the chef had a great hand for seafood. It was sort of an elevated neighborhood place,” said William Pencek, a former Maryland Department of Commerce employee who headed a film and arts division. “The crab cakes were delicious, and the London broil was my go-to dish.”

Advertisement

Other customers liked his stuffed oysters with crab meat and seafood lasagna.

Mr Antonas studied in the south of France with Roger Vergé.

“He learned how to make a lot of elegant sauces,” his wife said.

He personally preferred roast beef and spaghetti his wife prepared.

At Eastern House in 2009, left to right, manager Harriet Hatzidimitriou, new co-owner Alaine Li, and longtime owners Mary and Nickolas A. Antonas. Mary holds oysters stuffed with crabmeat with a crab cake, and beef stew.
At Eastern House in 2009, left to right, manager Harriet Hatzidimitriou, new co-owner Alaine Li, and longtime owners Mary and Nickolas A. Antonas. Mary holds oysters stuffed with crabmeat with a crab cake, and beef stew. (Jed Kirschbaum / Baltimore Sun)

In a 2013 Sun article, he explained a Baltimore tradition of sauerkraut with turkey.

“My wife and I think the immigrants from Germany and Poland settled in Highlandtown and the area around Broadway generations ago, and they celebrated Thanksgiving the way we did, but they also wanted to add a touch of home to their meals,” he said.

The article said the couple always served a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but they didn’t think to include sauerkraut when they first opened in 1966.

“However, so many customers asked for the stuff during the holidays that the couple added it to the Thanksgiving menu and served it that day for more than 40 years — with bacon or sausage, with applesauce, with grated onion and carrots, and even, at times, with ginger ale for “a kind of champagne taste.”

The article said the couple were won over by sauerkraut.

“You have the sweetness of the sweet potatoes, then you add the sauerkraut, which is a little tart,” Mr. Antonas said. “Then you add the turkey and country gravy, and it just becomes a nice combination.”

A Baltimore Sun food critic put the Eastern House on her top 10 list of All-American restaurants and noted,Proof that All-American is a state of mind: There are some Greek dishes on the menu.”

A 2009 Sun review said of the restaurant: “The neat-as-a-pin interior, with its plush carpeting and banker’s-green booth upholstery, reminded one friend of those old coffee shops that used to be everywhere but have completely disappeared. But it’s a little grander than a coffee shop; for one thing, up front there’s a bar, which looks like a nice place to get a quiet dinner and maybe a boilermaker. Yes, think ‘Mad Men,’ if ‘Mad Men’ ever once got something right.

The review described the lentil, chicken noodle, navy bean and Maryland crab soup. “Each was convincingly home-cooked, the way a very good but not adventurous home cook would make it,” the story said. “A ground-sirloin baked moussaka here, on the other hand, is much better than you imagined, with an exceptional béchamel sauce and admirable restraint with the cinnamon and nutmeg that make some moussaka taste like holiday candles.”

“He treated people with respect and he had a great sense of humor. His employees stayed with him for years,” said his daughter, Harriet Hatzidimitriou, who was a manager at the restaurant, which he sold in 2009.

Mr. Antonas was an avid golfer and member of Sparrows Point Country Club. He was proud of the hole-in-one he scored at the Hunt Valley Club.

He will lie in state Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. when the funeral service begins at Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 2504 Cub Hill Lane, where he was a member. He was also a member of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.

Survivors include his wife of 60 years, who worked alongside her husband; three daughters, Harriet Hatzidimitriou of Perry Hall, Maria McVey of Middle River and Annette Souranis of Hopewell Point in Essex; and six grandchildren.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement