I ate kangaroo in Columbus, Georgia.
Yes, I did. And that first sweet, tender bite of marsupial was the summit. Behind me, guiding me on the journey, were months of curiosity and just one quick phone call to an accommodating chef who let me dine in his award-winning kitchen with little notice.
It was only part of my meal at Epic, but the experience was one I’ll always mention when I’m asked about the most unique dish I’ve consumed.
The curiosity began more than six months ago when I first moved to Columbus. I stumbled upon Epic online, and toward the bottom of its dinner menu, under main courses, there it was — kangaroo.
I’d go on about my life. Eating and writing about many different things, but often my colleagues and loved ones would be subjected to short speeches about my desire to try that creature indigenous to Australia.
Several days ago, I placed a call to Epic’s Chef and Co-owner Jamie Keating with my request: let me come to your restaurant and document my kangaroo dining experience. With no hesitation, he agreed.
The Guardian, a British newspaper, sums up the kangaroo meat trade like this: depending on who you ask, it is the most sustainable and ethical in the world or it is a violation of animal welfare that involves the murder of baby joeys.
More than a million kangaroos will be professionally shot in Australia for human and animal consumption and leather. There’s even quotas and a national code of practice that dictates how kangaroos must be shot. For example, shooters are not allowed to target females with obvious young.
The meat is then consumed locally or exported abroad, eventually ending up in dining establishments like Epic. It is a lean red meat that is very high in iron. Your server will recommend that you get it prepared medium-rare because Kangaroo is so lean that the meat would dry out and lose tenderness if you cooked it much longer.
The hemp seed crusted tenderloin will come to you sliced into pieces. Some are uniform and thin. Others are just a little bigger. It is served alongside roasted fennel, cremini mushrooms, cauliflower, potato pave and sauce périgourdine, classic French meat accompaniment.
How’s it taste? Well, the meat is incredibly tender. You spend the first few bites processing the flavors. It is a little sweet. The taste closely resembles venison or a stronger flavored beef with some chewiness to it. The sauce périgourdine, brown and flavored with truffle and foie gras (goose liver), adds a little savory and heavy flavor to the meat.
Soon, you forget you’re eating kangaroo as your taste buds adjust. You might start to think it tastes like a well-prepared steak.
Top to bottom, the meal at Epic was the best I’ve had in my life. The fried green tomato salad starter perfectly balanced the tart tomatoes with the richness of buttermilk and pimento dressings. A tender shredded duck taco, served before the salad, was quickly and pleasantly consumed. A slightly spicy sous vide octopus starter with a sweet glaze was quite the surprise. L-E Video wizard Mike Haskey and I talked at length about its tenderness.
Often times at restaurants in Columbus, you leave dessert disappointed. At Epic, it may have been the best part. Study of Strawberry, essentially a greatest hits featuring some battered berries, cheesecake and ice cream, was light and sweet. I’d come back just for this.
But what truly sets Epic apart, is the attention to detail.
Keating, Epic’s chef, is the kind of man that interacts with his guests in between dishes. Sure, we were sat at the chef’s table and he was within eyeshot for much of the night. But he made time for some high society Columbus women celebrating a birthday at the bar.
He asks questions, makes notes and saves menus in anticipation of repeat visits — building intel. I left in awe and $145 lighter after the tip.
My kangaroo curiosity was finally cured.