Galliford’s Restaurant & Tavern
5 Southwick Street, Mendon, Massachusetts
Dinner at Southwick Zoo? Cue visions of hot dogs steaming in the mid-spring drizzle as we take refuge from the cold in the monkey house. That sounds fun, let’s go!
That spirit of adventure was tempered after some research, when I learned that the Southwick Zoo has their own tavern and restaurant, Galliford’s. Their menu is loaded with items I’d be happy to select. Burgers and weenies are still available, but in smaller venues scattered around the zoo.
Getting to Southwick Street meant a straight-shot down Route 146 followed by a series of turns on winding country roads. Just when I thought we’d lost our way, the evening gloom was pierced by a large digital sign flashing blinding white light: Galliford’s! We had arrived.
The large parking lot was packed with cars, it looked as if everyone in Mendon had shown up on that mid-week evening. The restaurant is situated at the bottom of the gently sloping parking area; beyond it the zoo extends for hundreds of acres. As we walked towards the entrance, the silence of the countryside was torn by animal shrieks. Monkeys?
On entry into Galliford’s we departed the Mendon wilderness and returned to the routine world of informal dining. A large lounge/bar area was crowded with people; beyond it was a dining room with heavy wood tables and chairs. The entire side of the restaurant looking out on the zoo was an enclosed patio featuring Galliford’s most popular tables. It was packed.
Southwick Zoo goes back to the early 1960’s. It has a pleasing non-corporate ‘indie’ feel to it. I rather suspected the restaurant would share some of those funky flourishes. But that is not the case, Galliford’s is just a couple years old and feels contemporary in the best of ways.
Mariah, our server, set us up with menus and answered all of our questions: Where do the animals go in the winter? Some are rented for the months of zoo operation. Was it always a zoo? It started as Southwick Wild Animal Farm. How many shrimp in the Firecracker Shrimp appetizer? Five. Ok, we’ll share an order.
The last time I ordered Firecracker Shrimp I was very impressed. Galliford’s take on the dish was even better. Extra-large juicy shrimp were coated with honey sriracha glaze and fried till gooey-crisp on the outside whilst the meat remained perfectly moist and tender. The order of five was ideal for sharing: satisfying but not filling.
In states south of Massachusetts soft shell crabs are very popular. For some reason they’re rarely served here, so when I found them featured on Galliford’s Entrée Specials I knew I had to have the Fried Soft Shell Crab Sandwich.
They took a large crab, seasoned the entire specimen (paper-thin shells included) with Old Bay-seasoned panko crumbs and deep fried it until it was deep-golden brown. Then they served it in a tender brioche bun topped with coleslaw, zesty remoulade sauce and baby greens. Each bite was crunchy and tasty with plenty of white crab meat. It was served with crackly home-fried potato chips and a pickle. I enjoyed the sandwich with a glass of Smuttynose Mysterious Haze, a New England IPA that balances hoppy bitter flavor with citrus and hints of tropical fruit. Galliford’s pours a nice tall glass. Come the warmer months this meal will be perfect out on the deck in the sunshine.
My dining companion, ever a lover of beef, selected Galliford’s New York Sirloin and enthusiastically dug in. His critique, “It’s a boneless sirloin, nice and thick, perfectly cooked steak with a nice char on the outside but pink and juicy inside. Great flavor! The fresh string beans and asparagus are wonderful!”
When it came time for dessert I was ready to take a pass. Then Mariah suggested Flourless Chocolate Cake and dessert regained its allure. Galliford’s flourless chocolate cake is a flat pie-shaped wedge, drizzled crazily with chocolate syrup and served with drifts of whipped cream. Its center was lustrous dark chocolate, creamy and rich and edged with a crispy-crusty thin shell. We devoured it so fast that Mariah chided our enthusiasm.
On paper, the concept of establishing a higher-end restaurant to anchor a venerable family enterprise seems risky to me, especially given its outlying location. But, as we saw with Slaters at Indian Ranch, it undeniably works. In fact, I suspect Galliford’s Restaurant might be the jewel in the crown of Southwick Zoo. But you won’t find me trash-talking like that in the monkey house.