April 08, 2020

Fiery Camden cook ready to hang up spatula

There is a special place in every town big enough for streetlights. It is the place where the locals can gather on both winter and summer mornings over coffee and eggs in comfort and enjoy the love, warmth and support of the gracious owners.

Then, there is Fitzpatrick’s Restaurant, on the Camden waterfront.

I can remember one sleepy morning when I walked in to get some eggs. I was standing in line when Terrance Fitzpatrick, the acerbic owner, spoke to the burly fisherman in front of me.

“Want a free breakfast? he asked. The fisherman, said “Sure, why not?”

“Then knock that [expletive] behind you right on his ass.”

And we were friends!

Then there was the time we had a St. Patrick’s Day party at Cobb Manor and I got a bad ice cube. When the survivors gathered for breakfast, it was decided to assemble at Fitzpatrick’s on the waterfront. I was hors de combat and sent them on without me.

When the survivors straggled in to the restaurant, Fitz learned of my precarious situation and offered solace, plus a free breakfast to bring back to Cobb Manor.

I was lying in bed, talking to dead relatives when “the breakfast” arrived at Cobb Manor. I could not believe my luck when I sat up and opened the styrofoam container. What a great guy that Fitz is, I thought.

I gagged.

It ended up that Fitz had cleaned out his grease trap for the first time in decades and sent the remnants home to me, disguised as breakfast. I spilled some of that toxic waste on my bedspread. Try as I might, I never could wash that stain out of my bedspread until I threw it away, a decade later.

Fitzy still thinks that was funny.

Some things never change.

Josh Lasbury, in his 70s, is usually the first one at the restaurant for breakfast every morning. Fred Morong, in his 80s, is usually the second. Fitzpatrick, being a part-time demon, has offered Fred “breakfast for life” if he ran down Lasbury at the restaurant door. So now, on more mornings than not, Morong sits at the top of Bay View Street, revving his engine just for fun when Lasbury shows up for breakfast and races to the restaurant door.

It has been announced that Fitzpatrick’s Restaurant has been sold, finally, to Kersana “Kitty” Phoorikasian and Talbot Freeman. A parade could be scheduled. Fitzpatrick announced that his last day could come somewhere in mid-November.

The Camden waterfront diners will miss Denise Fitzpatrick, the angelic wife of the fiery short-order cook. She has been with Terrance for 30 years, since they spent their honeymoon at the Samoset Hotel. It was 1976 and the now posh resort was on hard times. “There was only one other couple in the whole place,” she said. “I certainly never expected to come back here and live.”

Fitzpatrick got his business start with partner Charles Foster, running the student union at Husson College in the roaring ’70s when the drinking age was dropped to 18. “We had an on-premises clientele and we sold 17 kegs of beer on a weekend. When they changed the drinking age back to 21, we were wiped out,” he said.

Within six months, Fitzpatrick got married, graduated from Husson and opened a business.

The first was The Galley Takeout in Camden, which is now the parking lot of the Waterfront Restaurant. “We opened on Memorial Day and it rained for 21 straight days. Our help all left, then the sun came out and we were screwed.”

But the Fitzpatrick clan was never afraid of a hard day’s work. At the same time, they opened up the takeout at Beloin’s Motel, the “new” Yorkies on Route 1, then the Blue Jacket in Edgecomb.

By then, Fitzpatrick was sick to death of fried food. When he went out to get lunch for Denise, he went to the Bay View Deli for a corned beef sandwich. The owner, David Graves, said, “You ought to buy this place, Fitz.”

He did, in 1979.

He lost his lease at the Galley, then the Deli, as people got jealous about Fitzpatrick’s ability to generate income. Some suspected that the diners were just coming in to see Denise. They ignored Fitzy’s killer work schedule.

By 1982, Fitzpatrick was looking for his own place. He moved directly across the street, to a building that held an apartment, boat shed and fish market. Fitzpatrick’s Restaurant opened in January 1982. Over the years, despite the owner’s personality, the restaurant became a second home to the Oxtons, Morangs, Schindels, Lasburys, Drinkwaters, Parkers, Mel Foley, Fran Schipper and dozens of others.

It became a place of football pools, public fundraisers, and Yankee haters. It became a community center.

Fitzpatrick decided that if he had to cook pancakes and make sandwiches from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week (at least in the summer), he could say anything he wanted to anyone who came through the door.

And he did.

Among the ritual diners who have grown accustomed to the abuse is Richard Russo, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Empire Falls,” a novel which was dedicated in part to Fitzpatrick’s Restaurant. Breakfast diner Richard Gold had a T-shirt printed for Fitzpatrick which reads “Co-winner of the Pulitzer Prize.”

Fitzpatrick saved that one for his approaching retirement. He has no plans at all, other than to let Denise do all the cooking, from now on.

Thank God, said sons Brian and Russell.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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