Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa filet mignon
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Is the Food You Eat Authentic or Fake When Dining Out? Watch Out For These Foods

Finicky frequent fliers forage for fancy farm fresh fare fairly frequently, forsaking feeding from fast food facilities — for faux food, frankly facing fallacy findings?

In other words: when you search for a good authentic meal at a restaurant — whether it consists of beef, such as a juicy tender prime filet mignon; seafood, such as a succulent lobster; poultry, such as chicken fingers fried to a golden brown color; or crispy colorful vegetables picked only hours ago — whenever you travel, is the food you are eating really as described in a menu?

Is the Food You Eat Authentic or Fake When Dining Out?

Laura Reiley — who is a food critic of the Tampa Bay Times — reported on Saturday, May 19, 2012 that Bern’s Steak House was exaggerating on its claims that all of its vegetables are organically grown on its own farm, when it was purchasing most of its produce from conventional suppliers. “The promise of house-grown organic vegetables has helped to cement Bern’s place in the pantheon of the nation’s top steak houses”, Reiley wrote. “But it’s a promise the restaurant doesn’t keep.”

Reiley later wrote in this scathing investigative article called Food to Fable — published earlier this year as an exposé on restaurants located in the Tampa area which engage in questionable business practices — that “On a visit to the relocated farm in February (Bern Laxer’s original farm is now soccer fields and a Wawa), there was significantly more produce growing. Bern’s declined to comment for this story.”

When an alleged false claim is knowingly purported by an entity, can other information pertaining to it be believed — or trusted?

“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,” I wrote in this review of my experience at Bern’s Steak House months before I first read the aforementioned articles. “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.”

Was the steak I ordered — which was part of a full dinner costing $51.10 plus tax and gratuity — authentic in terms of its description? Did it really start out as 12 ounces of pure prime beef? Short of going into the kitchen and inspecting it myself, can I be 100 percent certain?

Three Foods You Should Never Order in Restaurants

Beef rated a grade of prime by the United States Department of Agriculture — as well as Kobe beef and “dry aged” beef — is just one of the three foods you should never order in restaurants, according to this article written by Larry Olmsted of Eater.

“Other beef claims are much harder to evaluate”, Olmstead wrote. “But as a rule of thumb, the vast majority of beef produced in this country is not of high quality — it is industrial feedlot beef, reared on drugs and silage, a fermented corn stew, as well as animal by-products. Yet there are a lot of restaurants serving steak, many of them upscale. Less than two percent of the beef produced in the country grades USDA Prime (the USDA’s numbers report they declare four percent of American beef ‘Prime,’ but that only reflects the percentage of beef that’s actually submitted to be graded; lower-quality beef often isn’t graded at all). Only a small percentage of our beef is truly grass fed and even less is also raised drug- and animal-byproduct free. There are just a handful of established steakhouses like Keens in New York and Bern’s in Tampa that dry-age their own meat in house. And only a tiny handful of wholesalers like New York’s DeBragga distribute Japanese beef.”

Well, it is nice to know that the beef at Bern’s Steak House is authentic — at least when it comes to dry aging.

The other two foods to avoid in restaurants are red snapper and truffles and truffle oil, according to Olmstead — but I would not go so far as to use the word never, as there are restaurants which do offer and serve the real thing.

Watch Out: Other Foods to Avoid

“My advice is to know where you eat your sushi,” I wrote in this article pertaining to spicy tuna sushi — described as “tuna backmeat that is scraped from the bones of tuna and may be used in sushi, sashimi, ceviche, and similar dishes” — back on Monday, April 16, 2012. “Reputable chefs will only use sushi-grade ingredients, and no self-respecting sushi chef will use sub-par ingredients — even if they are not considered sushi-grade quality. Research reputable reviews of the restaurants to which you intend to consume sushi, and — while there is no guarantee you will get a completely truthful answer — ask the proprietors of the restaurants if they use fish “scrapings” for their sushi. If you are unusually queasy and averse to the possibility of eating the product in question, avoid eating spicy tuna sushi altogether and consume the wide variety of other kinds of sushi available — although I would have to say that I personally believe that is too extreme.”

Another “food” to avoid is “pink slime” — more euphemistically known as “lean fine textured beef” — where questionable parts of a cow are mechanically separated, processed and treated with ammonia to be used in ground beef dishes such as hamburgers. Pink slime was famously exposed in 2012 by Jim Avila of ABC News, as it was reported as an ingredient included in as much as 70 percent of ground beef sold in supermarkets.

Beef Products, Incorporated filed a defamation lawsuit in Union County, South Dakota against ABC News and Diane Sawyer, seeking $1.2 billion in damages as a result of that report. The lawsuit is scheduled to be heard in state circuit court in Elk Point, South Dakota sometime in February of 2017, according to this article written by Codi Vallery-Mills of The Cattle Business Weekly.

Then there was this famous episode of Food Revolution starring Jamie Oliver pertaining to pink slime, which purportedly led to McDonald’s no longer using it in their hamburgers in 2015.

The controversial use of pink slime had decreased after that report aired; but it eventually returned to the food chain two years later, according to this article written by Josh Sanburn of Time — especially as the cost of beef increases.

Mechanically separated poultry — such as chicken or turkey used in “fingers” or “nuggets” — is a form of pink slime; but using fowl instead of beef.

Expensive seafood can be substituted with a cheaper fish; and yet you might not realize it when you eat it. For example, lobster meat was scooped out from a variety of lobster dishes at 28 restaurants around the United States and “sent off to a lab, where DNA tests were carried out to see if there was anything fishy about the lobster”, according to this article written for Inside Edition. “It emerged that in 35 percent of the samples, the lab found cheap substitutes instead of lobster.” Red Lobster was included in that investigation — and the news spread like wildfire. Unless you personally pull the lobster or other expensive seafood from their shells, there is no assurance that you are actually eating the real thing.


The depths to which rogue restaurateurs will go in order to eke out an extra dollar at the expense of his or her customers — even to the point of endangering their health — continue to amaze me.

It is bad enough that the actual product which you eat bears no resemblance to the photograph in which it is advertised — fast food restaurant chains are especially notorious in engaging in this practice — but to have the expensive food comprised of a cheaper substitute and simultaneously charging the customer premium prices for it is not only inexcusable and unacceptable; but it is outright deception and fraud.

I have been disappointed more often lately in what restaurants have to offer on their menus — although I have been fortunate overall over the years. I understand that operating a dining establishment often means narrow margins on which to profit; that food and labor costs have been increasing; and that people are usually unwilling to pay a hefty price for a decent meal — but when the food and dining experience does not live up to its expectations, that can render a visit to a restaurant close to worthless, as I might as well enjoy a meal at home instead.

When dining out — especially in an upscale restaurant where dinner will cost you a small fortune — do not be timid. Ask questions about the food served by the restaurant. If applicable and possible, ask for proof of authenticity of the source of the food to be assured that you will be dining on the real meal deal; or speak to the chef. For example, I do know from personal experience that members of the staff at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa are more than happy and proud to take you on a tour of their facilities and answer any questions customers might have — in fact, they proactively encourage it despite how busy the steak house may be at the time.

While there are anomalies associated with the preparation of food which would naturally render it different once it is ready to serve — such as the loss of weight and shrinkage of size of a cut of beef as one of many examples — is getting what we pay for whenever we dine out in a restaurant too much to ask?!?

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Great post Brian. If you dig any deeper and uncover the horrible truth about cruelty as an another aspect in what we as humans do, you may go vegan as I had to last year after nearly half a century eating meat (and loving it.)

    Now I miss my steak, and/ but wish I could say I sleep better at night knowing I don’t contribute to the despicable meat and dairy industry. I don’t…. Cos now I know what goes. on and it haunts me daily.

    It’s truly sad what we do. And it will only get worse as the population grows and people think McDonalds etc is great.

    Deeply ashamed. You probably won’t respond to this but I hope you take it onboard to look further.

    1. Funny thing you should say that about going vegan, Andy.

      The range of meat I eat is fairly limited: filet mignon, hamburgers, chicken, turkey and few other meat products — as well as many kinds of seafood — but of them, I enjoy them too much to give up completely. I am also not much of a dairy eater — I have expressed my disdain for cheese in past articles I have written — but I do enjoy ice cream and frozen yogurt.

      That does not mean that I am indifferent to animal cruelty, with chickens being crammed into coops so that they are not too tough to eat; turkeys having their breasts bigger and plumper; and countless other atrocities committed on innocent animals daily. I am considering taking on your suggestion and writing an article about it — and if I decide to do it, I have to figure out the angle from which I will write it.

      When I read the excellent investigative report by Laura Reiley, I had thought about doing my own investigation on restaurants in the Atlanta area. There are several problems inherent with that — including but not limited to the fact that I have no resources such as a newspaper to assist me; conducting the investigation will be an incredible consumption of time; and there is the very real possibility of being sued if I name names.

      I have reached out to a contact at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to jointly do an investigation of a different type. That reporter expressed interest; but nothing has resulted of a potential collaboration at this time.

      A good salad is usually my preference over most desserts; and I enjoy many kinds of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grain products — but I am not sure I want to live a completely vegetarian or vegan diet.

      Thank you for your suggestion, Andy. I appreciate it.

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