When I moved back to Tuscaloosa in August 2007 to rejoin my old law firm, Rosen Harwood, I was thrilled to find a variety of new restaurants in the downtown area. I don’t recall precisely when Chef Tres Jackson launched Epiphany but it instantly became my favorite after my first meal there.
From the outset, Epiphany and Chef Tres Jackson focused on local foods and suppliers that used sustainable-production methods. One of my earliest meals at Epiphany was a prix-fixe menu organized for the West Alabama Chapter of the Sierra Club as part of the group’s sustainable foods initiative.
When I last dined at Epiphany (July 14), I asked Tres to share his philosophy about farm-to-table. Here’s what he had to say: “I really believe that the whole world is going to have to start going local and getting educated and putting their money and food choices back in their community. I think it’s not a restaurant movement but a social movement.I also think it can be lead by restaurants as an educational influence to consumers, but ultimately each community will decide what happens by their dining choices as a whole.”
Epiphany was open for lunch for a few months in 2008 but the downtown lunch crowd apparently didn’t think you could get in and out in 45-50 minutes. It was very doable. While most downtown professionals snarfed fast food or deli sandwich carry-outs, I enjoyed several heavenly lunches for less than $15. I was sad when Epiphany gave up on the lunch crowd, but I can certainly understand.
“I think that is the real challenge to get people to buy in as a community for the right reasons,” Jackson said. “Then when they quit supporting the feedlot supplied restaurants everyone wins—local farmers, restaurants and consumers. Everyone gets better food and it helps the enviroment, the local community, and restaurants that do things! It has such abroad reaching impact on everything.”
I’m not a frequent restaurant diner—I’m very selective and prefer to spend more for an excellent meal rather than $15-20 for a average meal from a chain restaurant. That’s not to say Epiphany is necessarily expensive. A great meal at Epiphany costs no more than a meal at any other nice restaurant or steak house, especially if you choose to order two small plates (appetizers) rather than a larger entree. The big advantage is that the food is amazing and you’re supporting a wide range of local farmers, ranchers and fishermen who use sustainable practices and harvesting methods.
“We are trying to buy everything as local as possible,” Jackson explained. ” When we can’t get local (within 30 miles) we go regional in this state. For example we are about to change over to all beers from Alabama. We are about 90 percent local, produce-wise, and almost 100 percent Alabama for cheese and dairy right now.”
Buying local and sustainably extends to meats and seafoods. “When we get to meat we buy no feed lot, no mass produced, no growth hormones and so forth, from as small family farms as we can find,” Jackson said. “We also try to focus on off cuts, like hanger steak and short ribs, and employ cooking technique to utilize them. When it comes to seafood we make every effort to not buy mainstream fish that are over fished, blue fin tuna, red snapper and the like. We also try to buy off-cuts of seafood as well, like salmon belly, grouper cheeks, sablefish collars. Our information guide is the Monterey Bay Watch List. We also try not to buy mass by catch produced seafood or farmed fish that is caged or manipulated.”
I moved away from Tuscaloosa in August 2009, to return to a career in academia, but I’m close enough to Tuscaloosa that I still do a lot of personal business there. Whenever I’m in town and can stay into the evening, I try to schedule it so I can have a meal at Epiphany. I’m very selective in where I choose to spend my food dollars. I would put Epiphany near the top of the top tier of restaurants I’ve dined at. The food is that good.
If you’re in Tuscaloosa and care about the food you eat, you really must try Epiphany Cafe.
Open Table describes the attire as “business casual.” While that might be ideal, it’s really not necessary. I’ve stopped by at 5 or 5:30 on multiple occasions wearing shorts and apologized and was told “no problem, don’t worry.” Epiphany is in Tuscaloosa, after all, where many people visit for sports events and probably aren’t wearing business casual. When it comes to attire, Tuscaloosa is not Birmingham or Atlanta.