100 Dishes in Alabama: The Gift Horse’s Apple Cheese Casserole

One of the things I love best about exploring the food scene in south Alabama is being able to do it with my parents. My dad grew up in Mobile County, and he and my mom have lived in Orange Beach for over ten years. If there is good food to be found anywhere in Mobile or Baldwin Counties, my parents will know about it. So while most of our beach-going friends are eating at the “usual” seafood hot spots along the beach road, you can usually find us driving to Bay Minette or Foley to meet CC and/or Pop at a fabulous place that may may be lesser known to the tourists, but is well-know and well-loved by the locals. Don’t get me wrong, if loving Lulu’s or the Shrimp Basket is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. We are SURE to have a shrimp po-boy or a Cheeseburger in Paradise almost every time we make the trip south. But as much as we love to explore local culture, especially of the culinary variety, it’s fun to have our family tour guides who know good find food when they find it.

Foley

While the small town of Foley is best known to beach-goers for the Tanger Outlets, if one drives a little north of there to highway 98 and takes a left turn, there awaits a delightful lunch spot known as The Gift Horse. And since it found a place on the 2012 edition of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die,” we had a fabulous excuse to stop in.

Outside

(Forgive that janky photo. It was an afterthought.)

(I just used the word “janky” in a blog post. Showing my own roots: Houston County, Alabama, born and raised.)

The Gift Horse’s building has a colorful past, which only enhances the charm and character of the dining experience. It’s a historic structure built in 1912 that has housed the Foley Progressive Club, the local American Legion Post, the USO, the Foley Skating Rink, and various hardware merchants. In 1984 it became home to The Gift Horse. Y’all, the inside of the building is not only beautiful with its beaded pine plank walls and ceiling and huge brass chandeliers, but oh, if those walls could speak, you just get the feeling they would have so many stories to tell.

Ceiling

Although The Gift Horse offers catering and other dining-related services, I believe its calling card is the lunch buffet. Now, before you conjure up a notion of a Golden Corral or Ryan’s Steak House, let me assure you that The Gift HOrse is nothing of the sort. Each dish is homemade and of the highest quality. It’s real food, prepared by a real southern cook who knows their stuff. Let’s start with the salad bar:

salad

Not only is there a fabulous selections of items for green salad, there is also a beautiful display of fresh fruit and prepared salads including green goddess salad and my personal favorite, the pasta salad. I don’t know what kind of dressing they use, but it’s like a sweet and sour combo that could easily become addictive. Y’all, you could just eat from the salad bar and feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth and had a delicious meal.

However. There’s this.

Bar

In case you can’t see it all, allow me to spell it out for you. There are cheese grits, broccoli and rice casserole, macaroni and cheese, fried fish, praline sweet potatoes, southern-style green beans, beef tips and rice, fried chicken, real mashed potatoes, and crawfish bisque (OMG!!! To. Die. For.). However, the dish that garnered The Gift HOrse a spot on the list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die” is their apple cheese casserole. I don’t know what they put in this stuff (well, other that APPLES and, you know, CHEESE), but it’s the perfect combination of sweet, tart, perfectly cooked apples with the ooey deep richness of cheddar. And the crust. Oh my, the crust.

Apple

I ate it. And then I died. And then I ate more.

Can we all take a moment in honor of the apple cheese casserole?

(silence)

And just in case your sweet tooth isn’t satisfied, there is an assortment of treats that are sweet indeed. Pecan sandies, bread pudding, lemon squares, and shortbread thumbprint cookies with jam.

Y’all.

It’s like eating everyone of your grandmother’s best dishes all in one meal.

Do yourself a favor. Drive a little off the “beaten path” of beach road. Or stop there on your way home. Do whatever you have to do to enjoy The Gift Horse. It will add richness and texture to your next beach trip. And you’ll want to stop there every time you go south. I promise.

Comments

  1. Oh my. . .I’m a little ashamed. I live just up the road from Foley (in Fairhope) and worked in Foley for a few years even, but have not once ever set my foot in the Gift Horse’s restaurant. I’m so regretting that.
    THANK YOU for opening my eyes to this yummy-looking spot. It looks a bit indulgent, but that’s exactly what one needs every so often! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • thehillhangout says

      Hey, Hope! It would definitely be difficult to eat there everyday and keep a girlish figure or clean arteries ๐Ÿ™‚ But for an occasional treat, it’s a fun place with lots of southern charm. And when you’re finished with lunch, you can walk it off at the antique shop next door. Fairhope has a few dishes on the list as well, so we’ll be headed your way soon.

  2. Paula Baecher says

    My husband Ron and I have enjoyed dining at the Gift Horse for many years. It is a beautiful old building with a wonderful touch of class. I always look forward to the Apple-Cheese casserole and the Fried rolls.

  3. Cliff & Mary Minton says

    We have wintered in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, ‘Bama for 14 winters and the Gift Horse is our favorite eating place in all of the south! Don’t miss it!
    The apple cheese casserole is GREAT!
    The staff there are the finest people in the south! Miss Jackie is a Jewel!

    Yankees from Michigan.

  4. I ate at the Gift Horse back in 1988 and I still remember the taste of the Apple Cheese Casserole. It is truly one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. I wish I could have some now. I would pay a high price for the recipe!

  5. Anonymous says

    There is little place up north in Athens, Alabama called 306 bbq and they have apple casserole as well. Looks similar to this and I am in love with it. I am going to have to check out this place next time I am down south ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. RAMONA THOMPSON says

    My husband and I, from Mobile, loved The Gift Horse, ate there as much as we could and took friends there to eat! I’m sorry to say he died this past March.

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