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
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.
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.
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.
Shown in the photograph above is the menu of the steakhouse…
…and there is no question that this spoon is the property of Bern’s.
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.
Not long after the order was placed, the French Onion soup au gratin with garlic and spelt toasts were served.
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…
…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.
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:
Cabernet Sauvignon Vinaigrette
Creamy White Balsamic Italian
Macadamia Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes, you are reading those vintage years correctly on the bottles shown in the above photograph.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The presentation of the desserts was excellent, though.
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.