The gluten free community typically doesn’t place a large amount of faith in being able to dine on-site when visiting major tourists destinations like a zoo, museum, theme park, or fair. With the exception of maybe only Disney, we all just live with the fact that we have to play it safe and bring in our own allergy free products for the day. So, when Kid Allergy Travel heard that the Nashville Zoo had an on-site dining establishment promoting clean eating and was specifically focused on allergy diners, we sought out a partnership (via sponsorship) to find out how.
One overcast morning, my toddler and I had the opportunity to sit down with Executive Chef Donovan Pritchard and General Manager Tony Smith to discuss how committing to excellence in food, creating a warm and inviting ambiance and promoting healthy living has been a major focus for the Zoofari Cafe.
Located near Gibbon Islands, this sit down dining restaurant serves as the primary air conditioned location that has been transformed in to a well thought out place to grab a quick service inspired meal, especially for those of us living allergen free or special diet lifestyles.
Ya see, Chef Donovan is not just jumping on the allergy band wagon. He actually feeds his own family this way. He understands the importance of clean eating, and as a parent himself, he believes in serving kids healthy and fresh foods. This is more than just customer demand; he prepares allergen friendly food with care.
The kitchen staff is ServSafe Allergens ™ certified. This is continuing education administered by the National Restauarnt Association that focuses on teaching responsible allergen services. Covering topics such as identifying allergens, communication with the guest, preventing cross-contact, food labels and more, this is a clear commitment to understanding and catering to allergen diners.
Cross contamination procedures are taken seriously. They wipe down the service before preparation. When they grill the gluten free buns on the line, they use fresh clean grill screens. If someone orders a vegetarian meal, they put it in the turbo chef oven so veggies don’t get cross contamination with meat.
Chef Donavan has worked hard to provide some of the most tasty products that are gluten free, such as: Udi’s Hamburger Buns (for an additional charge), BBQ sauce, both Kraft packaged and homemade salad dressings, and the Sweet Street Rice Crispy Treats (made with brown butter and sea salt). And, although there is no dedicated fryer making French Fries off limits for gluten free eaters, they have an easy sub option of equally tasty Miss Vickies Certified Gluten Free chips or fruit instead.
The good news is that the great offerings here extend beyond the gluten free, vegan and vegetarian community. Diners following any lifestyle will find the menu turns out a creative mixture of gourmet comfort food. Piggybacking on the artfully prepared burger craze and artisan pizza popularity, Chef Donovan has worked to create an interesting menu that also caters to the vegan crowd, anyone who happens to be a vegetarian, and those of us that live the gluten free lifestyle. Yes, they have the standard kid food like chicken fingers, PB&J and macaroni & cheese, but they also have things like the Sweet Memphis Mac Burger, Cranberry Turkey Club Sandwich, Roasted Pepper Hummus Wrap, and even a Vegan Pizza. Plus, there are also inventive, healthy salads using ingredients like goat cheese, fresh strawberries, and homemade apple cider vinaigrette, so you don’t have to sacrifice your waistline or taste buds while dining here.
Another added bonus? Packaging and presentation of food comes in environmentally conscious products like cups made from 10% post consumer fiber, paper from responsible sources, and linings made from plants not petroleum. My burger came wrapped up in The Zoo Gazette which features articles like: “The First Collection of
Animals” (which dates to 2400 B.C.) and “What is Sustainable Agriculture.”
I got the opportunity to enjoy the Gourmet Mushroom, Swiss & Pesto Burger on the Udi’s Gluten Free Bun with a side of fruit.
The toddler, however, in classic little kid form refused to eat anything but French fries and fruit. The Udi’s bun was grilled to perfection (Chef Donovan says to avoid crumbling), and the pesto gave the burger a nice kick. The little one gave a thumbs up on the fries as he gobbled them up.
We both got to sample one of those glorious rice crispy treats and even brought one back for Kid Allergy who gave it the title of “Best Rice Crispy Treat Ever.”
We went on to enjoy the rest of the cloudy day at the Zoo (read more about our entire Nashville Zoo visit here) with full bellies, but also warm hearts. Ultimately, Kid Allergy Travel found a knowledgable and caring staff here who do a great job of celebrating and including various types of kids. So, the next time you find yourself visiting this kid destination favorite in Music City, don’t just assume it will be another typical tourist place that overlooks those of us who abide by special diets or eat by clean living standards. We encourage you to give Zoofari Cafe a chance!
Kid Allergy Travel received sponsored admission to the Nashville Zoo & a complementary meal at the Zoofari Cafe. Although this was part of a media visit, rest assured, the opinions provided in the post by Kid Allergy Travel remain our own. Photos by Kid Allergy Travel.