Into the Wild
The Safari Club restaurant at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo boasts a menu as varied and interesting as the animals on view.
In the expansive location it moved to last summer, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores, AL, welcomes locals and tourists to enjoy its ever-growing range of animal residents and entertainment and educational opportunities. The on-site Safari Club restaurant, now boasting an all-female management team at the helm, offers a unique dining experience for the whole family, plus options for private parties, business meetings, and the like, all in a setting that calls to mind the diverse origins of the zoo’s animal population.
The Safari Club holds the distinction of being Alabama’s first certified “Green Restaurant,” acknowledged by the Green Restaurant Group as a leader in conservation, recycling, and reduction of waste. The restaurant has on-site composting and works closely with the animal care staff to utilize every possible byproduct for the benefit of the animals. It also works closely with the City of Gulf Shores to develop protocols for recycling various non-food waste.
Experienced restaurateur Michelle Deerman serves as chairman of the board of the Safari Club and is assisted by vice chair Wendy Valentine and general manager Tori Maryott, who oversees the front-of-house operations. Danny Reynolds runs the back of the house and functions as executive chef, with the able assistance of sous chef Nicolaus Kecan. “We’ve put together a well-oiled team,” says Deerman. “We’ve overcome a lot of challenges and false starts, including a global pandemic and the normal growing pains, and we’re now operating smoothly, full speed ahead! We welcome visitors for casual meals and snacks, both in the Safari Club and at our satellite operations throughout the zoo, where we have drinks and sno-cones and quick bites for any appetite.”
The Safari Club is open seven days a week and features a full bar and an impressive wine list. “We’ve developed a menu that appeals to everyone,” says Deerman. “During the week, in particular, we see mostly families who want a sit-down meal in the middle of their visit or before they leave. We feature sandwiches, tapas, salads, burgers, pizzas, and full meals. Something for everyone in the family.” There are vegetarian and vegan options, as well as plenty of kid-friendly choices, all served in a casual and exotic safari setting.
The Safari Club menu reflects the diversity of places represented by the zoo’s wildlife. Dishes such as the Korean Fried Broccoli, Thai Beef Salad, Chilean Steak Sandwich, and Australian Chocolate Milo bring the world to the table alongside more familiar items like burgers and steaks. The pizza menu alone provides a great range of choices, from the classic cheese offering to a fabulous shrimp and bacon pesto pie that deserves special mention.
The restaurant welcomes groups and parties, either in a private room or any of several venues abound the zoo itself. When it comes to more varied or larger private events, be it a business meeting or a kid’s birthday blowout, the Safari Club staff can devise a plan for a successful gathering with great food and drink in a unique environment. The “New Zoo” is a treat on all levels, with the dining being high on the list.