Primi Urban Cafe has recently gone through some changes. They began as an unassuming Italian restaurant with some South African influences. A few months ago, the restaurant was sold to Saverio Macaluso, a native of Palermo, Sicily. Spend any time with Saverio and you will be impressed by his warmth and hospitality.
Primi does not have a parking lot, however, if you call ahead, they will make accomodations for your parking. There is some parking on the street. That aside, it is one of those neighborhood places where they really go out of their way to make your dining experience a good one. It’s all about relationships with customers. Here’s what Saverio has said previously about this venture and meeting his diners, “In the six months since I bought Primi Urban Café, my family and I have gotten to know many of the restaurant’s old customers, met many new ones, and made many friends. Your support and your friendship are extremely important to me.”
He went on to say, “The previous owners started Primi as an Italian restaurant, and it has been a very good one. But I am Italian, and I love food, and it is time for me to put an authentic Italian imprint – my imprint – on Primi. You have noticed – and enjoyed, I hope – a few changes. We changed the interior a bit, and we added the piano.”
In April, they brought Executive Chef, Richard Coots on board. Chef Richard was with the Don CeSar for about 13 years and worked his way up to Executive Chef of the King Charles Room at the Don where they serve Sunday brunch during the season. He won six Golden Spoon Awards there and has also won acclaim as having the “Best Gourmet Restaurant” and “Best Sunday Brunch” by the Weekly Planet, the Miami Herald and the Pinellas News.
Raised in Tokyo, Richard eventually left Japan to train at the famed Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. As a result, he is versed in many cuisines, and Italian is one of them.
Saverio says, “I trust that you will come to treasure Richard and his cooking as much as I do.”
I had a chance to try a few of their dishes recently. This is not a full review because before I even had a chance to eat, one of my dining companions revealed the fact that I am a food writer (and he is on the naughty spot!). That notwithstanding, the food the four of us shared was very authentic looking, for the most part. We had the Antipasti ($11.95), Bolognese ($10.95), Chicken Marsala, and Lamb Shank ($16.95).
The antipasti was an ample appetizer for the four of us and included marinated artichokes and broccoli, Calamata olives, fresh mozzarella, smoked salmon, freshly marinated tomatoes and prosciutto. It was a refreshing summer way to start a meal although the broccoli was marinated a little too heavily with vinegar for my taste and the prosciutto did not have the texture or earthiness of the type from Parma that I am used to, but still had good flavor. The tomatoes are particularly good and meaty this year, and the marinade for them was just the right balance of flavors. The artichokes and mozzarella were fresh and exceptional.
The Bolognese was very tasty. The pasta was al dente (freshly-made locally according to their specifications) and the sauce was meaty and rich. I will say again (as with the prosciutto) that it is not the same Bolognese sauce I am used to having in Italy. That does not mean it wasn’t flavorful. It was just different. Usually there is less tomato in Bolognese I have had, with the meat being the star of the dish. There is also usually a hint of nutmeg, which I did not detect in this case. That would not stop me from ordering it again.
Chicken Marsala (like all the dishes there) was an ample portion. It had plenty of chicken in the mushroom/Marsala sauce with a side of spinach. No one at the table liked the spinach but me. I think people don’t realize Italians like their hot vegetables well-cooked, so they are not going to flash-saute the spinach. The Marsala sauce looked beautiful, but was slightly heavy on the Marsala, giving it more of an alcohol-ish taste and less room for the other flavors to shine in the dish.
The Lamb Shank was my favorite entree of the evening. Perfectly braised and falling off the bone with concentrated goodness, that dish was truly a winner (besides being huge).
While we relaxed before and after dinner, we listened to the new piano player offering selections for young and old alike. When I was sitting there reflecting on dinner, I had the sense that this was a very comforting kind of place. The lighting was soft and the decor evoked memories of many other traditional Italian places I have dined at. Although we had perfect service (and that was to be expected after they knew I was a food writer) I have never heard a single complaint about service at this restaurant. I hear complaints about different places all the time, but not Primi under the new ownership. Saverio was working the room the entire time we were there, making sure all his patrons were happy. On top of that, he’s just a nice guy.
Primi Urban Cafe is located at 27 4th St. North. (727) 895-4909