Italian Hospitality

Everyone is welcome at specialty foods market’s weekly tastings, possibly Birmingham’s best-kept secret

Wine was being poured generously as a warm summer breeze blew through an intimate backyard dinner party where I first laid eyes on the beauty
of Monica Bisignano Zamler’s antipasto platters.

These were no ordinary platters — think the best prosciutto money can buy, cheeses straight from Italy, caper berries soaked in prosecco (I never knew these existed), artichokes … every ingredient was tucked and folded with care.

Fast forward to the following Tuesday at Zamler’s Primi Piatti Market in downtown Birmingham. Those caper berries were calling my name, and after finding
out she hosts an event called “Tasting Tuesdays” from 4:30-7 p.m. every week, I couldn’t miss it.

Zamler says that locating right near Birmingham Farmers Market was a big reason for opening up shop where she did four years ago. Today, the block is fully occupied and most business owners are women.

Tasting Tuesdays have become a place where the community congregates. Each week, Zamler prepares fresh pastas or a different Italian product from the shop for sampling. Everyone is welcome, and it’s quite possibly the best-kept secret in downtown Birmingham.

“I’ll open anything in the store and let customers try it, but the Tasting Tuesdays are intended to feature one key product the shop offers and show people how to use these ingredients,” Zamler says. “Many people end up buying the products once they taste the dishes I create.”

Zamler keeps an open door policy at Primi Piatti. And rain or shine, summer or winter, that door stays open.

Walking in on one particular Tuesday, Zamler featured her handmade meatballs: chicken, vegetarian, and traditional beef, with two types of fresh pasta, her mother’s marinara sauce, and meatball sandwiches.

A steady flow of loyal clientele, friends, and family walked in carrying bottles of wine.

“My success has been strictly due to word of mouth,” Zamler says.

When I met up with her midday on a Thursday, she had set up a charcuterie plate on a picnic table right outside the herb garden in front of her shop.

“I’ll give people recipes to try and they say, ‘But I don’t have any basil or parsley,’ and I’ll say, ‘Go pick some out front!’ ” she says.

During the interview, seven people stopped to greet Zamler with a hug or kiss on the cheek, or ask how she was doing.

“This part of Birmingham reminds me of the Birmingham when I was a kid, where the shop owners are actually in the stores, and you’re dealing with a higher level of customer service,” she says.

Zamler grew up here, but her family is Italian and she learned how to make pasta before she could reach the crank on the pasta machine.

She’s become locally famous for her handmade ravioli.  At 7 a.m. every Sunday, she begins making traditional meat ravioli along with a seasonal flavor like beet and mascarpone, pear and pecorino, or pea and mint.

“I usually sell out by 11 a.m.,” she says.

550 N. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-566-3353.