The West Alabama Food & Wine Festival will finally return to the Tuscaloosa River Market Thursday after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the event in 2020 and 2021.

The celebration is a decadent display of the best culinary options the area has to offer paired with wine, beer and Alabama’s own Clyde May’s whiskey, but indulging is guilt-free -- all proceeds from the event this year will go to fund the West Alabama Food Bank and its mission to alleviate hunger in the area.

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“We are delighted to be selected as the beneficiary of the festival,” said Jean Rykaczewski, the food bank's executive director. “Not only do we receive much-needed funds to help distribute food throughout West Alabama, but we also have the opportunity to introduce our mission and show what services we provide to this large audience.”

As it has in the past, the event will feature food from almost two dozen of the area's finest restaurants, including fine-dining powerhouses like Chuck's Fish, FIVE, Evagelines and Dillard's Chophouse.

The Festival will also boast new additions, including two in honor of iconic Tuscaloosa figures who died this year, prodigy chef Fuller Goldsmith and Tuscaloosa Sports & Tourism's Bill Buchanan.

For a $25 donation to Fuller's Fund to help end childhood cancer, attendees can earn a spot in a raffle for a private, customized five-course meal catered by Northport chef Alison Hudnall.

The event will also Buchanan with a 6 p.m. toast and by renaming the Best in Show award, which is given by the vote of guests at the Festival, in his honor.

Attendees can also participate in a Wine Pull sponsored by downtown Tuscaloosa's the Wine Market. For $20, guests can pull a wrapped wine bottle from a group of vintages that range in price from $20 to $100 hoping to get lucky and pull a bottle of greater value than their donation.

“We are thrilled to be able to showcase our local restaurants. The past two years have been challenging and have presented a new landscape for them. We hope the festival gives them the opportunity to highlight their food and introduce their menus to food enthusiasts who may not yet have dined at their establishment,” said Debbie Sanford, co-chair of the festival. “We are really happy to welcome several new restaurants to the festival this year and look forward to sampling their menus. Supporting our local restaurant community is at the heart of our festival.”

The fun kicks off Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the River Market, and patrons can expect stellar food, a commemorative wine glass to take home, entertainment from local musician Chase Evan and much more.

A very limited number of general admission tickets are available for $50 each, and all VIP tickets are sold out. No tickets will be sold at the door, so be sure to order in advance!

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