n 1969, Antonio Rosato emigrated with his family from the outskirts of Rome, where they owned a grocery store while he was a student. They settled in North Plainfield, a big Italian community that included family friends and relatives.
Somerset Market in North Plainfield opened in 1904, then had its name changed to K&S [short for Kirsch & Son] in 1936 after it was purchased by the Kirsch family. When the Kirsch family retired and was opting to sell shop in 1976, Antonio Rosato and his brother, Angelo, took over the business.
Given the recognition and reputation K&S had established in the community, the Rosato family kept its name. Then, 15 years ago, moved to the Somerset Circle Shopping Center in Bridgewater.
Previously, under the Kirsch management, prepared food was not offered at the market. The Rosato family introduced this service, derived from family recipes, while also providing homemade fresh pasta and different merchandise such as balsamic vinegar; imported unusual cheeses including Tuscan pecorino and Fontina; olive oil; and balsamic vinegar that ranges from 5-years-old to 100 years.
The 100-year-old balsamic costs $200, and only a few are left, while the less expensive varieties cost only $6.99. I joked that I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference and should get the cheaper variety.
Antonio Rosato—who speaks Italian, English and Spanish fluently—has employees not from Italy, but from other areas of the world. I overheard him talking in Spanish with one of them working behind the counter—he and his staff are warm, friendly and helpful.
Eyeglasses perched at the base of his nose, Rosato peered at me when I entered the shop, exuding business acumen and experience. Without being overly solicitous, he offered frank recommendations and pointed out, without hesitation, drawbacks in products that he saw customers considering, giving more credibility to his other suggestions.
When I hovered near certain cookies, Rosato shooed me away from them in a terse helpful manner. Then, when I grabbed a bag of Barilla cookies, he encouraged trying them in a matter-of-fact way [“very good”] and offered a small piece of information—while Barilla pasta is made in the United States, Barilla cookies come from Italy.
When I inquired about the importation process, Rosato explained that the distributor with locations in New York and New Jersey sends merchandise via delivery trucks. Dried goods travel by boat and could take up to a month in transit, whereas perishable items are flown in overnight and received within two days.
Sometime in September, Rosato said, holiday items for the Christmas season are expected to arrive.
Located next to Payless Shoes and Christmas Tree Shops in the shopping plaza, K&S is linear and narrowly long within, in a spare, understated setting. Far from ostentatious, the minimal decor seems to imply a reliance on the quality of products, rather than on superfluous extraneous unimportance.
Showcases of refrigerated prepared food and ingredients line both sides, behind which workers prepare customer orders. Drink machines are in the back, and a frozen compartment stores pastas and soups. Dry goods surround all intermediate spaces.
Radio music disperses throughout the atmosphere, and dining-in is not an option.
Fresh bread greets near the entrance followed by homemade linguine, fettuccine, pappardelle, sauces and sausages. Butter Italian cookies from Brooklyn, nougat, cheeses, chocolate, panettone, mushrooms, salads, preserves, olives, olive oil, subs, sandwiches and prepared foods [appetizers, pasta dishes, house specialties, veal, chicken, seafood and vegetables] are among some of the offerings.
K&S also serves party trays and platters, and catering is available upon request. Regular American grocery items are represented by a small area of soda, chips, Snapple and bottled water.
Customer favorites, Rosato said, range from extra virgin gourmet olive oil, special cheeses, vinegar and focaccia sandwiches. Most of the patrons are Americans [80 percent], while foreigners account for 20 percent.
According to Rosato, not many authentic Italian shops are around nowadays, perhaps 10 at most. And customers who used to live in New Jersey return and visit from out of state, and even from across the continent.
A new website presence is expected in two weeks. For 10 years, a K&S site existed and was taken down due to low visitor traffic—now, prompted by frequent customer request, the site is being reintroduced.
I selected a number of goods and put them neatly in my shopping basket: Mangiami Dolci Desideri assorted biscuits, Mangiami Wafers con Crema al Cappuccino, Barilla Girotondi cookies, Vergani Crème Liqueur Chocolate, Casale Paradiso Risotto Mare e Monti [sea and forest risotto], Casale Paradiso Orecchiette Ai Funghi Porcini [pasta with porcini mushrooms], chicken and eggplant cutlets and homemade sausages.
The butter cookies I requested, Rosato made complimentary without fanfare, and when I protested, he prompted, “thank you,” so I thanked him with a comparable, understated smile. Everything else cost approximately $50, indicating fairly reasonable prices for imported products.
I thanked Rosato again for his discerning help and left the shop as it was closing in the early evening. Excited about trying all the goodies I was about to bring home, I felt as if I had crossed time zones and country borders without a passport as I reentered the parking lot of a shopping plaza in suburban New Jersey.