Safari Club Dining: Rustic Elegance Meets an Eclectic Menu
From tantalizing small plates and handmade artisan wood-fired pizzas to a full variety of seafood and meat selections cooked on an open wood fire, dining at the Safari Club Gulf Shores provides a unique and exciting experience.
Executive Chef Greg Buschmohle brings a unique set of attributes to his gig at the helm of the acclaimed restaurant at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Buschmohle is a passionate animal lover, a dedicated environmentalist, and an experienced restaurant professional. “This just might be the culmination of everything I’ve worked for,” he says. “I feel that this is the job I’ve been training for all my life.”
The Safari Club layout, décor, and menu work in concert to convey a sense of rustic elegance in a setting that is both untamed and sophisticated – a luxurious club set down in a jungle. “When we were planning the restaurant, crafting the menu and integrating it with the zoo, and working to achieve our Green Kitchen certification, we were able to refine our plans and elevate the entire operation to a very high standard,” says Buschmohle.
The Safari Club menu reflects the global nature of the zoo, with dishes drawing on the cuisines from every continent, and catering to every dietary preference. The starters – listed as Tapas — reflect their global roots with Asian and South and Central American dishes strongly represented. Korean Fried Broccoli, crusty almond-encrusted Crunchy Goat Cheese, and Falafel fritters satisfy vegan guests but appeal as well to a much broader audience. Coconut Shrimp from the nearby Gulf shares space with Singapore Chicken Satay and Mexican-influenced Actopan Chalupas.
Vegetarian and vegan options across the menu are anything but afterthoughts – they are creative, appealing dishes that hold their own with grace. “We have developed some intriguing combinations,” says the chef. “For example, we offer a Beet Burger that satisfies the heartiest appetite, and a BBQ Sandwich that uses smoked mushrooms for flavor and body, crisp onions, and a tangy guava barbecue sauce that is to die for.”
The kitchen’s state-of-the-art pizza oven is a workhorse, producing half a dozen pizza selections ranging from the classic cheese or an outstanding Margherita with basil from the kitchen garden to a more exotic Fennel Sausage or a Shrimp and Bacon Pesto. Sandwiches run the gamut with classic American offerings like the Real Deal Burger and the wood-grilled Fresh Catch Fish Sandwich sharing billing with the Chilean Steak Sandwich and the Vietnamese Chicken Banh Mi.
While dining at the Safari Club Gulf Shores, guests will find entrees featuring fresh Gulf seafood and locally sourced beef and poultry are always available, with specials based on the freshest items in season. Shrimp are wood-grilled or hand-breaded and fried, and steaks include a hand-cut 16-ounce ribeye and an 8-ounce filet grilled over wood and served with roasted fingerling potatoes.
The kitchen garden, known as Grandma’s Farm, and is truly right outside the kitchen, provides much of the produce and the fresh herbs we use in the restaurant. “It comes full circle,” says Buschmohle. “We use our post-consumer waste from the kitchen as compost for our gardens. We also utilize our pre-consumer waste – vegetable trimmings, overripe fruit, and the like – as a part of the animals’ diets.
The Safari Club features a full bar that exudes a sense of an oasis in the middle of the wild, with creative cocktails and a carefully curated wine list that parallels the global nature of the menu and the setting. In addition to the restaurant and bar, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo offers a variety of venues for private events as well as casual outdoor dining. The Safari Club contains a private dining room for small events, and the adjacent Event Center can accommodate up to 300 dinner guests or 500 for cocktail and business functions. Savannah Manor, in the heart of the zoo’s African savannah, provides a lakeside setting for weddings or corporate functions for up to 150 and can be combined with the nearby African Bazaar for larger events. The Coola Springs Outback features one of the zoo’s satellite food trailers and overlooks two monkey islands, making it the perfect setting for children’s birthday celebrations.