When Rita Sturiale first saw the historic houses in Boise’s Central Addition district, she just knew she had to have one of them.
Sturiale, a longtime connoisseur of antiques and collectibles, was interested in opening an eclectic gift shop and small Italian eatery in Boise. And why not operate such a venture in an old house that needed to be relocated? Seemed like a good idea to her. So the historic Wood House was moved to 15th and Jefferson in Boise and lovingly restored.
The new cafe will start serving lunch from 11:30 a.m. to about 2 p.m. on Fridays only, beginning May 5. (Additional hours will be announced later. Follow The Sturiale Place website here.)
But just how did the home’s transformation come about? Over the years, folks around here watched the Victorian-era houses near Downtown Boise — between Myrtle and Broad streets and 5th and 6th streets — become more and more dilapidated.
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But with modern times — and the Downtown corridor in the midst of a building blitz — came the eventual gentrification of the rundown district. Most notably, space needed to be made available for a new seven-story residential and commercial complex slated for that spot. Preservation Idaho stepped in to help facilitate (and advocate) the future of the houses, some of which were to be moved and others salvaged for repurposing projects.
Sturiale, a member of Preservation Idaho, had her eye on another house in the Central Addition, but someone had already called dibs on that two-story structure. She then turned her attention to the much smaller Wood House, a beautiful yet beat-up 1890s Queen Anne-style house that was turned into a duplex in the early 20th century.
“I was originally interested in the Fowler House. But once I heard it was gone, I found out about the Wood House,” Sturiale says.
“So on a handshake, I told them, ‘I’ll take it.’ ”
Making the move
LocalConstruct, the development firm building the new apartment complex in the Central Addition where the houses sat originally, donated the house. But while the house was free for the taking, Sturiale still had to pay for the moving costs and everything else that followed.
Sturiale (pronounced “stir-ee-olly”) worked with Western States Movers, which had the daunting task of figuring out how to move the 1,200-square-foot structure. It ended up costing around $64,000 for the well-orchestrated move across town, which took place in 2015 on a brisk November night between the wee hours of 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.
“I was amazed by the whole process. They had to take down the street lights and direct traffic,” Sturiale says. “It was impressive.”
Moving the house was surely no easy task, but the real work started once it arrived at the corner lot that Sturiale had purchased at 15th and Jefferson streets in Boise’s North End.
“The house was kind of a slum. I knew it needed lots of work,” she says.
Sturiale, who moved to Boise 12 years ago from Southern California, had compiled a team of carpenters, woodworkers, painters, plumbers, electricians, roofers, lighting experts, landscape designers and just about every other kind of worker it requires to complete such a detail-oriented undertaking.
The Boise-based firm of Slichter Architects was hired to help with planning and support for the historical project. Sturiale also commissioned local artists to work on everything from stained glass to mosaic tile to custom metal fabricating.
Sturiale’s master plan was to get the house in place on a new foundation with a basement and build a ground-level addition that included a hallway, restrooms, an office and storage space — adding on around 1,300 square feet to the building.
Her grand venture, called The Sturiale Place, will open on May 5 for Friday lunches only. First and foremost, the business will feature a unique mix of new and vintage gift items and imported specialty foods. But also having an eatery with a limited Italian menu and Mediterranean wines was always part of the plan.
“We are never going to be a full-blown Italian restaurant. That was never the goal,” says Sturiale, who comes from an Italian-American family that settled in upstate New York generations ago.
JP2 Construction was hired early on as the general contractor, and it didn’t take long for owner Joe Perkins to realize that the house was in rough shape.
“It needed some love,” he says. “She (Rita) saw potential in that house that others didn’t.”
Perkins and his crew dug the hole for the foundation on the vacant lot before the house was moved. Once it arrived, they slowly positioned it, elevated over the hole on a crisscrossed wood frame until they finished the concrete work and underlying infrastructure.
“It was kind of like Lincoln Logs,” Perkins says about the temporary support structure.
After that part of the project got finished, the house was carefully lowered onto the completed basement.
Perkins then went to work constructing the addition on the back of the house as well as building a commercial kitchen (with a firewall and an overhead hood exhaust system) in the original part of the home. He also prepped the interior walls — old and new — and restored some of the existing brick work.
Throughout the process, he never lost sight of the historical integrity of the project and how to meld the new construction so everything flowed seamlessly.
“That was a challenge,” Perkins says. “The house wasn’t designed for a restaurant kitchen.”
Sturiale also had to replace most of the interior fixtures, hardware and such, as well as restoring and repurposing what was useable in the old section of the house. This included some of the windows, window frames and original hardwood floors, which she had repaired and cleaned so they retained their scuffed-up look. She purchased three vintage crystal chandeliers (one from Italy and two that are Turkish-styled) to help brighten up the space, in addition to new lighting fixtures.
As for the rest of the house, the basement will be utilized as a storage area and a wine cellar, and as studio space for cleaning and refinishing antiques and collectibles. The attic, which can now be accessed through the back of the house thanks to a sturdy new wood staircase, is being turned into a private museum of sorts. (Sturiale has acquired many antiques and collectibles over the years.)
Glass with heart
A large ornate stained-glass window filters light into the space upstairs. Sturiale commissioned Robin Erickson from Legacy Glass Art to make the Victorian-inspired window.
“The Victorians were very elaborate. They really got into detail like scrolling and other elements,” Erickson says.
And with all that detail came many hours of work for Erickson. It took her two weeks of eight-hour days — doing nothing else but that — to complete the project, which required hand-cutting 450 individual pieces of glass.
“It was a fun window to build,” she says. “The art of leaded glass is kind of gone these days.”
She also worked with Sturiale to replace and replicate the colorful glass panel windows on the front door, the side door and within some of the window frames.
The house surely has a story to tell. Sturiale and her team just had to coax it out by staying true to the Victorian period. Right inside the front door, two museum-like exhibit boards give visitors insight into the history of the house and breadth of the renovation project.
On the outside, the house received a much-needed paint job, siding and a covered patio with a gazebo structure just off the dining room. Flower and herb beds, connected by a meandering pathway, were placed around the house.
When The Sturiale Place debuts in May on a part-time basis, the retail part of the business will boast a profusion of unique gifts and vintage collectibles and curios. Expect to find new and vintage jewelry, locally made soap and hand lotions and just about anything else that strikes Sturiale’s fancy.
“If I like it and it catches my eye, then I’ll sell it,” Sturiale explains. “I want people to be able to find a neat assortment of gifts, not run-of-the-mill items.”
In the beginning, the eatery will be open one day a week (11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays for now) for lunch, with more hours added in the coming months.
“We are starting out kind of slow with the restaurant, and the menu will grow over time,” Sturiale says.
Sturiale hired Nikki Russo to handle the management of the food and wine program and many other details. Russo grew up in an Italian-American household in New Haven, Conn. In recent years, Russo has lived in Southern California, where she worked as a professional photographer and in property management. She and Sturiale met through the Italian American Club of Boise not long after Russo moved to Idaho a few years ago.
The recipes that will be used in the restaurant are also a hodgepodge of old and new. Italians definitely love to talk about food, and they hold family recipes near and dear to their hearts. Some of the dishes are culled from the Sturiale and Russo family recipe books, while others are newer interpretations of Italian classics.
While Russo has no professional cooking experience, she surely has a passion for Italian food and wine. Plus, many of her family recipes date back several generations.
“I am conjuring up exactly what I learned by sitting on my grandmother’s kitchen counter as a kid on a Sunday afternoon watching her create her favorite dishes,” Russo says.
Creating a menu
Russo and Sturiale make a good team when it comes to designing a menu with Italian comfort food in mind.
“My mom was an excellent cook. Not everything she did was Italian, but her older sisters were born in Italy, so we always had pastries, pasta and stuff like that. It’s simple Italian fare. That’s the feeling I’m trying to bring back here, like a Sunday dinner at grandma’s house,” Sturiale says.
“Nikki loves to cook, and I love to bake, so it works out well.”
For now, the limited menu will feature scratch-made items such as sausage and peppers in aromatic marinara sauce, escarole and bean casserole, Italian pork meatball soup and Italian-inspired sandwiches. The menu will also boast Sturiale’s freshly baked rosemary bread and a mixed greens salad with a choice of creamy basil dressing or balsamic vinaigrette. Most menu items will cost between $8 and $13.
On the sweeter side, there will be pignoli nut cookies (a Russo family treat) and possibly a chiffon cake (see recipe at right) that Sturiale’s mom used to make for special occasions.
The dining room, with its long communal table, is a good spot to hang out while enjoying food and a glass of vino. Or you can dine on the patio.
The wine list, like the menu, will start out limited and grow over time. You’ll likely find two Italian whites (Pino Grigio and Orvieto), two Italian reds (Sangiovese and Negroamara) and a few sparkling wines. Beer drinkers will be able to get cans and bottles of Boise-area craft brews and Birra Moretti, an imported beer from Italy.
“People can peruse the shop while they enjoy a glass of wine,” Russo says. “We want to make it feel like someone’s home dining room.”
The Sturiale Place is devoting a room to imported foodstuffs and bottled wines, and eventually people will be able to buy imported cheeses and cured charcuterie meats at the deli counter. The shelves in the import shop are going to get stocked with good olive oils, vinegars, canned Italian tomatoes, dried pasta, anchovies, olives and other specialty food items.
Down the road, after the soft-opening phase, Sturiale and Russo have plans to expand into the nighttime hours with reservation-only, prix fixe dinners and possibly wine-tasting events. An afternoon tea program is also in the works for later this year.
James Patrick Kelly, the Idaho Statesman’s restaurant critic, is the author of the travel guidebook “Moon Idaho.”
The Sturiale Place
The Sturiale Place is at 1501 W. Jefferson in Boise. Rita Sturiale will open the specialty cafe and gift shop part time on May 5 — 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays for lunch, and then gradually increase the business’s hours and menu variety. Learn more online at thesturialeplace.com or on its Facebook page (search for The Sturiale Place).
The project team
In addition to Rita Sturiale and Nikki Russo, here are some of the contributors:
Preservation Idaho (preservationidaho. org): Historical support and vision
Slichter Architects (slichterarchitects. com): Architectural planning, support
JP2 Construction: General contractor
Catapult3 (catapult3.com): Design of historic information signs in entrance
Legacy Glass Art (legacyglassart.com): New custom stained-glass windows
LocalConstruct (localconstruct.com): Donated the home
Advantage Painting: painting work, wallpapering
Anna Webb Mosaic: Mosaic design
Atkinson’s Mirror & Glass (atkinsonsmirrorandglass.com): Some glass replacement
Celtic Plumbing (celticplumbingboise. com)
Classic Design Studio (classicdesignstudios.com): Design of outdoor signage
Creative Surfaces (creativesurfacesidaho. com): Kitchen flooring, other work
Ferguson Lighting (fergusonshowrooms. com): Lighting fixtures and sinks
Gerla Brothers: Gazebo installation, other construction work
Idaho Reroof & Repair (idahoreroof. com): Roofing materials and work
King Hardwood Floors (kinghardwoodfloors.net): Floor preservation, cleaning
Madeline George Garden Design and Nursery (madelinegeorge.com) and Think Green Landscaping (design/installation)
Mesa Tile & Stone (mesatileandstone.com): Countertops
Power Plus Inc. (pwrplusinc.com): Electrical work
Riverside Welding and Fabrication: Custom iron work (handrails)
SJS Home Services: Window restoration
The Stair Guyz (thestairguyz.com): Side porch and pergola
Tree City Woodworking (treecitywoodworking.com): Custom cabinetry
Turner Painting: Exterior painting
View Point Windows (viewpointwindows. com): New windows
Vintage Woodworks (vintagewoodworks.com): Wood work for porch
Ward Hooper Vintage Swank (wardhooper.com): Art and logo work
Whirling Circles Studio/Debra Facchin (whirlingcircles.com): Mural
Winters Electric: Electrical work
Ada’s Chiffon Cake
Rita Sturiale recalls her mom, Ada, baking the cake for special occasions. It’s similar to a traditional Italian sponge cake.
“She made this for just about every one of my birthdays, for as long as I can remember,” Sturiale says.
“It was definitely one of our favorite family traditions.”
Sturiale’s mom tore the recipe from a Betty Crocker Cookbook back in the 1950s and made it her own. Rita Sturiale has plans to adapt the recipe and serve it at The Sturiale Place. She might even use it in the form of cupcakes at a later date.
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Sift these ingredients together well in a mixing bowl and then make a deep well in the dry mixture.
Add in order:
1/2 cup corn oil
7 unbeaten egg yolks
3/4 cup cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
Beat with a spoon until smooth.
1 cup egg whites (takes about 7-8 eggs)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Measure these ingredients into a large mixing bowl and whip (with a hand whisk) until the egg whites form very stiff peaks. Do not under-beat the mixture.
Pour the egg yolk mixture gradually over the whipped egg whites, gently folding with a rubber scraper just until blended. Do not stir the mixture. Immediately pour into an ungreased pan and bake.
For a 10-inch tube pan, bake at 325 degrees for 55 minutes, then at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.
For an oblong pan (13 by 9 inches), bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched.
Immediately turn the pan upside down, placing the tube part over the neck of a funnel or a bottle, or resting the edges of an oblong pan on equal-sized soup cans. Let it stand upside down until cool. Loosen the cake from the sides of the pan with a thin spatula. Turn the pan over and hit the edge sharply on a countertop to loosen. Place the cake on a plate and frost with whipped cream.
“For the oblong cake, my mom would slice it in two layers (horizontally), and add a layer of vanilla pudding mixed with some of the whipped cream in the center,” Sturiale recalls.