It's 9 am, and the sun beats down from a cloudless sky on the bright white shingles of a downtown Post Falls house. It’s not hot yet — and, inside, Tina-Marie Schultz isn’t wasting a second of the morning cool.
She plunges her hands into a steel bowl of steaming hot water, stretching just-boiled white cheese curds before forming them into pool ball-sized lumps. They go into another steel bowl of brine water, leaving cloudy trails as they sink to the bottom. Fresh mozzarella.
Schultz quickly slices up one ball, layering a medallion of homegrown Roma tomato over the top. She disappears outside for a moment and returns with a basil leaf from a pot on the house’s back porch. Each gets a drizzle of olive oil.
The still-warm cheese, the sweet red tomato and basil — it’s a one-bite mission statement, reflecting everything Schultz and her tiny store, Rosa’s Italian Market and Deli, represents. The sauce, the cheese, the bread: homemade. The produce she uses? Homegrown. And the recipes — from the meatballs to the carbonara — are all generations-old recipes that Schultz learned, a handful and a pinch at a time, from her Sicilian mother and grandmothers. Everything at Rosa’s reflects her upbringing.
But after opening two years ago, Schultz quickly discovered that the smells from her kitchen — the loaves of fresh baked bread and the warm, buttery aroma of slow-cooked marinara — aren’t only reminiscent of her childhood.
“When I first opened, I was making a big pot of sauce and this guy comes in. … He was so tickled we were opened,” she recalls in her thick New Jersey accent. “He said, ‘I was the only Irish kid in Little Italy.’ And he says [his] friend’s mom would have a big pot of sauce cooking on the stove, and she would have a loaf of bread, and as the sauce was cooking, we would go back in the kitchen and dip the bread in there. And I say, ‘Oh, you mean like this?’”
Schultz says she brought him back into her kitchen, where she had a pot going and a loaf of bread nearby, ready to be ripped and dipped into the sauce.
“I said, ‘Jimmy. Help yourself.’ And he started crying!” she says. “He ripped off a piece of bread and dipped it in the bowl, ate it. And he said, ‘You made an Irish kid happy.’”
“And that’s what we do — we do nostalgia here, too. We don’t have customers that come to Rosa’s, we have company,” she says. “That’s how we treat everybody, we treat everybody like family.”
When Schultz opened her store, she named it after her mother’s mother. “That woman was a saint,” she says.
But she learned as much about cooking from her father’s mother, “a little bulldog of a Sicilian woman,” she adds.
And it seems that Schultz is a mix of both. She’s quick to greet customers and call them “hon,” but she also operates by a strict code. At Rosa’s, she’ll make you a sandwich, but you gotta come up to get it. You’ll bus your own dishes here. And if you make a mess, you’ll be the one cleaning it up. Schultz has been known to hand a surprised parent a rag to clean up after their young children.
“I love when people come in with little kids. We love children. I will trade you a child for a sandwich. You want to leave me your kid? Perfect. We love kids,” she says. “But if your kid makes a mess, clean it up. You hired me to make your sandwich. You didn’t hire me to pick up the Cheerios off the floor that you brought in for your baby to eat.
“If you did that crap in your mother’s house, your mother would be like, ‘What, do you live in a barn? Clean up after yourself!’”
As she’s talking, all the while tending to a pot of sauce on the stove, a guy in a tie walks through the front door. She leans back on her heels from the stove, calling “Welcome to Rosa’s!” out from the kitchen and across the front counter.
The guy chooses quickly from the lunch menu — an oven-roasted turkey sandwich. Schultz shakes her head: “Turkey? No, you don’t want that,” she says. “Have an Italian sandwich.”
He looks confused, but obeys. Instead, he’ll take an Il Padrino — a crusty roll stuffed with capocollo, prosciutto, pepperoni, sopressata, salami, provolone, roasted red peppers. Schultz hobbles back to the kitchen, one leg in a walking boot cast, to make it.
And before she’s done, she’s on a first-name basis with the business guy — Hugo, his name is — and he’s back in the kitchen smelling the sauce and trying a spoonful of balsamic vinegar. She wraps his sandwich in white paper and tapes it shut with masking tape. Hugo shakes his head as he leaves. “This place is a gem.”
But Schultz says she’s just serving what she knows best. Every day for lunch, she makes sandwiches like you might have in a New Jersey deli: meatball, chicken marsala, eggplant parmesan. And she only hosts dinner once a week, on Friday nights — making whatever she and her sister feel like cooking. Spaghetti and meatballs, baked ziti, chicken cacciatore, veal parmesan. On those nights, her godson washes dishes, and occasionally her husband chips in. A girlfriend of hers waits tables and, of course, Tina-Marie mans the stove. That’s a spot she rightfully earned from her grandmothers, and one she won’t give up easily.
She still remembers when she realized the power of cooking in an Italian family. She was young girl — maybe 7 years old — and she was teasing one of her siblings outside when her grandmother yelled to her.
“She goes, ‘Tina-Marie, come here!’ And I knew I was in trouble, because she used my full name,” Schultz recalls “She says, ‘You got such a bad temper, you ever want to keep a husband, you better learn how to cook!’” She pauses, hobbling from the stove to the sink to wash her hands, and laughs.
“He ain’t left yet!”
Seventh Annual North Idaho Italian Festival • Fri, Aug. 19, from 5-7 pm; Sat, Aug. 20, from 10 am-8 pm; Sun, Aug. 21, from 10 am-6 pm • Rosa’s Italian Market & Deli • Fourth Ave. & Frederick St., Post Falls • northidahoitalianfestival.com • (208) 777-7400