A Lunch of Epic Proportions

The Epic Café combines fresh food and a tolerant atmosphere--even when it comes to 2-year-olds.

The Epic Café is as close as you can get to Berkeley without leaving Tucson.

The healthy food with fresh vegetables. The diverse crowd. The casual, occasionally cranky counter service. The art on the walls. The cigarette sales. (OK, maybe that part ain't so Berkeley.) Tattoos in abundance. The straws in the Viagra-labeled container. It's all there.

I visited the Epic Café on a recent Friday, and here's where the story gets its twist: I was joined by Michaela Steed, The Weekly's longtime studette editorial designer--and her 2-year-old daughter, Stella. Fortunately, the place was not that busy, because for the next hour and change, the proceedings basically became the Stella Steed show.

Anyway, back to the food and the service and the whatnot. Here's how the Epic works:

1. You go to the counter, order your food and pay. In our case, I ordered the Epic chicken salad sandwich ($5.75), which came with tomatoes and sprouts on foccacia, along with half of a Greek salad ($3; the full version is $5.95) and a cup of the lentil soup ($2.75, $3.75 for a bowl) and a cuppa coffee ($1.39 or $1.63). Michaela and Stella chose the veggie sandwich (also $5.75, like all the sandwiches), which includes Swiss cheese, tomatoes, avocado, cucumbers, red onions, sprouts, mustard and mayonnaise on foccacia. They also got a Mediterranean tomato salad ($3.95) and a lemonade ($1.50/$1.75).

2. You sit down and talk or study, or if you are an amazingly patient editorial designer/mom, you chase your 2-year-old as she runs amok.

3. When your food is ready, the dude in the kitchen yells your name.

4. You walk up and get your food, your utensils and your straws from the Viagra container.

5. When done, you bus your own tables.

It's a great system, really, as long as there are no hitches--like the cream container being empty. I pointed this out to one of the servers; she nodded and promptly ignored me for five minutes. Then, I informed someone else--don't stand between a journalist and his coffee, lest ye be damned--and he kindly filled it up.

This is a minor complaint, though--you don't go to places like the Epic expecting stellar service. You go expecting a cool vibe and good food, which, for the most part, is what we received.

Michaela enjoyed her veggie sandwich; she said everything was crisp and fresh, which is what you'd want in a veggie sandwich. She also enjoyed the Mediterranean tomato salad. Stella was a big fan of the vinaigrette dressing, slurping it straight from the container it came in and getting upset when it was all done.

I liked my lentil soup a lot. It featured lentils in an onion broth along with onions, carrots and celery. It was yummy. The same thing can be said for my Greek salad, and I am glad that I poured my dressing on the salad before Stella was able to snag my dressing container after she finished off her mom's dressing. My sandwich was the weakest part of the meal--it was all fresh, but the chicken salad's flavor was so muted that the sprouts overwhelmed it, taste-wise. I would have preferred more, tastier chicken salad and fewer sprouts.

All in all, we were satisfied, and as Stella played--attacking a box of stuffed animals that the Epic has, bringing the animals to Michaela, one by one--I checked out some of the Claudia Fucigna photographs currently featured at the Epic. They show images of people in New Delhi, and they're quite good.

Anyway, after this brief play/art break, we decided to get dessert. In addition to sandwiches and salads (and some continental breakfast-type goods for those early risers), the Epic has a good selection of sweets; we chose a peach cobbler ($3.75). It was delicious. The Epic folks were kind enough to heat it for us; it was sweet, flavorful and all-around wonderful.

It was a nice end to an enjoyable meal (cream debacles aside). Michaela and Stella said their goodbyes, although I stayed behind for an interview appointment.

And I couldn't help but notice how the overall volume level at the Epic dropped with Stella gone.