TBT – This is a reprint (with updates) of a review I wrote for the web site IGOUGO.com on June 12, 2007.
Make reservations, dress up in your Sunday best and prepare to enjoy one of Tampa Bay’s best known landmarks – Bern’s Steakhouse.
Located at 1208 South Howard Avenue in Tampa and opened in 1957 by Bern Laxer, this is the place to socialize, entertain your business clients, celebrate special occasions or enjoy the perfect romantic dinner.
Entering the lobby, your first reaction at seeing the velvet flocked walls and old paintings may well be that the décor is a cross between the Haunted Mansion and a bordello. Most of the dining rooms have been updated featuring French wine country décor. There are still old school touches such are marble busts and dark wood throughout the rooms.
Everything here is first class. The service is refined and top notch. Intense server training has allowed for many of the staff to dedicate many years working here. Servers know the regulars by name.
Wine is the star and many patrons refer to Bern’s as a temple of wine. They have won numerous Wine Spectator Grand awards. With 90,000 bottles in the main cellar (and that’s only a fraction of 400,000 bottle collection featuring 6500 labels), only Tour d’Argent in Paris has more labels (but less physical bottles). There are wines from countries all over the world, young and old vintages in every price range. Wine can be ordered by the bottle or from an extensive selection by the glass. The house made cheese topped crackers that are served with wine are divine.
Prices are high, but you’re paying for food made with fresh top quality ingredients. Most meals include choice of French onion of Vichyssoise soup, salad, meat entrée, starch and vegetables and fresh baked micro breads, so quantity you get is good. The onion soup is as good as any to be had in France (the stock is made with veal bones for richer flavor). There are 62 cut choices of steak, which are cut, weighted and trimmed upon ordering. Other meats include veal, buffalo, lamb, signature chicken dishes, lobster and fish. The fish are alive and swimming in one of three 1200-gallon holding tanks in the kitchen and you can pick yours. Bern’s has been blessed with several outstanding chefs with creative flair in recent years. Special dishes featured daily on the menu taking the diner way beyond a simple steak.
When your server asks if you would like to make reservations for the dessert room say yes. Before you head upstairs, take the must-see kitchen tour to appreciate the huge well run operation and the meticulous food prep that make Bern’s one of the best in the business. The tour culminates in the onsite wine cellar to see the mind-boggling amount of wine bottles.
The Harry Waugh Dessert Room is named after a longtime friend of Bern Laxer and opened in 1985. The inspiration came from dinners at the Waugh’s London home where dessert, coffee, and after-dinner drinks were served in the drawing room. Each of the private rooms is encased in walls made of wood wine casks and vary in size to seat 2 to several people. There are also booths available in the piano room. The nearly 50 desserts are made on the premises – ice cream, sorbets, pies, pastries, etc. Coffee is fresh ground. Try the Brazilian Frost coffee drink and Bananas Foster prepared table side or the wonderful French macarons when they are on the menu. One of the ice cream flavors, Macadamia Nut Ice Cream is a secret recipe developed by Bern himself. If you prefer a “liquid’ dessert, there are over 1000 selections of dessert wines – Madeiras, ports, sherries, brandy, cognac, scotch, cordials and liquors, some dating back to the 1800’s.
Reservations are strongly recommended. Without them, there is a small chance of eating in the bar if space is available. For more information, visit their web site: http://www.bernssteakhouse.com/