Review: Bern’s Steak House in Tampa

I  enjoy dining at steakhouses — particularly in Argentina, South Africa and the United States — and had the opportunity to dine at the legendary Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, which was opened in 1956 by the late founder Bern Laxer and his wife Gert.

Location and Arrival

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Downtown Tampa on a Friday night can be rather crazy — and during Halloween, even more so, with traffic choking the streets and pedestrians seemingly everywhere. With regard to the parking lot, you can park your vehicle by yourself free of charge; or you can opt for valet parking. Street parking is also available. Once the car was finally extricated from the traffic, we found a spot to park the car.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa entrance

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

We walked under the portico and into the lobby area of the restaurant. As it was a Friday night, we naturally waited for a table. The wait was approximately 20 minutes or so — not too bad — until we were escorted to one of several dining rooms on the premises.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa dining room

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

It was a formal dining room with white tablecloths and rich wood paneling which gracefully showed the age of the restaurant; and it was rather quiet despite its occupancy of guests.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa menu

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Shown in the photograph above is the menu of the steakhouse…

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa spoon

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

…and there is no question that this spoon is the property of Bern’s.

The Service

The waitress who came to our table gregariously — but not too loquaciously — introduced herself and gave a synopsis of what we can expect from our dining experience at Bern’s. When she was finished, she answered in detail any questions which we asked of her; and she did so again after giving us ample time to review the menu and select what we wanted to order.

After consulting with the waitress, I decided to go with the largest filet mignon, which was 12 ounces, cooked at a medium temperature — but not butterflied, which is having the steak cut split almost in two and spread flat for a more even doneness of cooking. Two inches is not the thickest filet mignon which I have ever eaten; but I was in the mood for a significant cut of meat that evening.

The person seated next to me decided to splurge and go with what is known as the Bern’s Steak House 100 Day Dry Aged Delmonico, Filet Mignon & Japanese Wagyu Strip — three ounces of each — for a cost of $85.95.

The Food

Not long after the order was placed, the French Onion soup au gratin with garlic and spelt toasts were served.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa French onion soup

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

As there was no choice of soup, I was initially not happy about French onion soup because I do not like cheese — especially when it is melted. Fortunately, the cheese was rather easy to peel off; and I consumed the consommé of the soup both with and without the toasts, on which I also nibbled by themselves in an attempt to savor their flavor. The soup was good but not fantastic…

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa toast

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

…and although I found the toasts to be too dry — I ate them anyway because I was hungry — I preferred the garlic toast when compared to the spelt toast.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa salad

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Next came the Steak House Salad, which contained lettuce, carrots, onions, cucumber slices, chopped tomatoes, croutons and shredded cheese. I picked off the cheese — but like the soup, the salad was good but nothing extraordinary. A choice of the following dressings for the salad were offered — including a few unusual choices:

  • Blue Cheese
  • Buttermilk Ranch
  • Cabernet Sauvignon Vinaigrette
  • Citrus Vinaigrette
  • Cleopatra (Caesar)
  • Creamy White Balsamic Italian
  • French
  • Macadamia Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette
  • Maple Dijon
  • Thousand Island
Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa filet mignon

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

The steaks finally arrived; and at first glance, I was disappointed. This steak was not two inches thick — not even close — and I have ordered steaks in the past at medium temperature which were easily three times the thickness of what I had just received.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa baked potato

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

It arrived with a baked potato — I ordered mine with the crumbled bacon and chives but without the sweet butter and sour cream which accompanies it — as well as a serving of thin crispy fried onion rings and some green beans and carrots.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa filet mignon

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

The steak was very good overall — but the flavor was a little on the bland side, despite the proud claim of “perfectly aged steaks” being served there. The quality of meat was very good as well; but easily not the best filet mignon which I have ever eaten. I would not place it in the uppermost echelon of steakhouse fare.

The baked potato was perfectly cooked — although I would have preferred a little au jus to moisten the potato a little instead of the butter and sour cream. The crumbled bacon was the star of the potato, giving it the boost of flavor it needed.

I typically enjoy onion rings; but these were more like onion straws — of which the only problem is that I wished that there were more of them. The cooked green beans and shredded carrots displayed nice bright shades of green and orange. They tasted as though they were fresh from the farm — and they apparently were sourced from a farm in North Tampa owned by Bern’s.

The dining companion who ordered the 100 Day Dry Aged Delmonico, Filet Mignon & Japanese Wagyu Strip offered me a taste of the Wagyu beef. Not ever having tried authentic Wagyu beef, I politely accepted the invitation. The texture of the beef emulated pure fat — not a sensation I particularly enjoy, as I prefer lean cuts of meat — and it was not all that flavorful either. While he did enjoy his meal, I could tell that there was some disappointment in his demeanor.

The Kitchen and Wine Cellar Tour

After dinner concluded, we were offered a tour of the establishment — something which is highly unusual for a restaurant.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa kitchen

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

We visited the hectic and bustling kitchen — replete with shiny steel surfaces and personnel in white coats as wait staff constantly brought in new orders and left with plates of freshly cooked food — as our guide explained the intricacies and statistics involved with running the kitchen of a legendary steakhouse.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa wine cellar

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

The wine cellar — which grew to be one of the most respected and largest collections of bottles of wine in the world with greater than half a million bottles of 6,800 different selections — was the other stop on this tour. Its dankness was welcome on that warm and steamy evening in Tampa.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa vintage wines

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Yes, you are reading those vintage years correctly on the bottles shown in the above photograph.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa wine cellar

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

We did not visit or tour Cave du Fromage, which is the cheese cellar of Bern’s. I was not particularly interested in it anyway.

Dessert

After the tour, we decided to repair to the Harry Waugh Dessert Room, which is an area separate from the restaurant in which patrons can enjoy confectionary treats and libations in quiet and private dimly-lit booths.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa dessert

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Each booth is supposedly equipped with a six channel stereo sound system which offers a wide range of musical styles — including classical, jazz, progressive, contemporary, new age and live music supplied by Bern’s pianist — but the system did not seem to work in the booth in which we sat. That really did not matter, as we preferred to engage in conversation anyway.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa dessert

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Despite the vast selection of dessert options, I was not interested in either dessert or wine, as I do not consume nuts or alcoholic beverages; and the remaining options just did not sound enticing enough for me to order.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa dessert

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

I did manage to try a bite of a few of the dessert options ordered by my companions; and although they were tasty — including a spoonful of the famous Macadamia Nut ice cream, which was delicious — they again were not all that special for the most part.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa dessert

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

The presentation of the desserts were excellent, though.

Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa dessert

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Summary

A filet mignon for the price of $51.10 plus tax and gratuity would normally be on the expensive side if it were offered à la carte; but as the price included a full meal and a tour of the facilities, the value proposition increases — but not by much.

I suppose my expectations were too high prior to my dining experience at Bern’s; but despite what I consider to be an imperfect experience, I recommend Bern’s Steak House in Tampa — especially if it is your first time there.

Maintain your expectations and realize you are not going to get the best value for your money, and you should enjoy the experience. While the food was very good, it is not the best, as better food exists elsewhere. The attentive service was very good to excellent. Be sure to take the tour of the facilities.

Bern’s Steak House
1208 South Howard Avenue
Tampa, Florida 33606
813-251-2421

Hours
Sunday through Thursday
5:00 in the afternoon – 10:00 in the evening

Friday and Saturday
5:00 in the afternoon – 11:00 in the evening

Major credit cards are accepted; and the appropriate attire to wear is business casual to semi-formal.

8 thoughts on “Review: Bern’s Steak House in Tampa”

  1. Ghostider5408 says:

    bern’s Steakhouse is like Joe’s Stone Crabs in Miami if you like steak or stone crabs you have to make the trip. Some like you would say “underwhelming” which at times can be true. However it’s the experience and ambiance that makes it. Having dined at both numerous times over the years I would still put them in the top three of each’s specialty. And yes the wine list is to die for, especially after you get the bill.

    Good Post thats two in a row

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Thank you, Ghostider5408.

      I actually have been to Joe’s Stone Crabs in Miami some years ago. The restaurant was quite crowded — which was expected — and I remember thinking to myself that the stone crab claws were not as tasty as blue crab or king crab. I also remember the food being rather expensive; but I was on business and did not have to pay for my meal.

      If we are referring to restaurants in southern Florida, I have dined at the original Shula’s Steak House in Miami Lakes more than once; and I had always had a superior dining experience there — but that was years ago as well and do not know if the quality of the food or service has changed since then…

  2. Jax Bob says:

    Next time in Dayton head to The Pine Club. Worth a trip.

  3. scott says:

    Originally from TPA, I have been there numerous times. Have always had great food/ambiance etc. If your steak wasn’t cooked perfectly, then the wrong cook was on that day/nite. It is expensive for sure, but I rate them as high as Ruths Chris. Also in TPA, go to Kojaks on Gandy Blvd. The best BBQ in the city. If you want great seafood, go to the Collanade off bayshore, which also has great views of Tampa Bay.

  4. Jacqueline says:

    I do not eat in restaurants unless necessary. I tend to always find fault with cleanliness and preparation of food.

    Bern’s is acceptable to me as is Ruth Chris, but they are not destination steak houses. I tend to agree with the critic about Wagyu beef that it is like taking a bite of pure, undercooked fat. I also find it hard to believe that a critic does not eat cheese, being one of the best foods around the world.

    In all my travels, I have found one steak house that I return to over and over again for the perfectly prepared steaks and dining experience. It sits in the Hard Rock Casino in Tampa and is called
    Council Oaks.

    It is truly the best steak house I have ever visited.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Council Oaks, eh?

      I will have to remember that, Jacqueline.

      By the way, I have seen the kitchens of catering halls. If you think you can always find fault with restaurants, you will never want to eat at a catering hall.

      Trust me on that one…

      1. Jacqueline says:

        Brain, agree on that one. When I was looking for a venue for my daughter’s wedding, I checked out the kitchens. Yes, being an Italian and French home cook, I am big on prep cleanliness to the point that I don’t allow anyone to bring food to my house for parties. When asked what to bring, I always say that wine and beer would be great!
        We had the wedding at The Breakers in Palm Beach, French service and sit down dinner. I liken the wedding “stations” to buffets where hundreds of people touch the serving utensils and then put them back in the food. HAHA, grosses me out.

        The Breaker’s was not only immaculate, but the food was phenomenal and the service outstanding!

        1. Brian Cohen says:

          The Breakers in Palm Beach was where I earned my certification as a scuba diver, Jacqueline.

          I have to agree with you on buffets, whether they are at weddings or in restaurants: they can be rather disgusting; but when correctly implemented to mitigate the contact of hundreds of people, I do enjoy them.

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