When in Tampa go to Bern’s Steakhouse for a classic dining experience. Bern’s is an old-school tried and true Tampa favorite that is famous for their in-house aged steaks, spectacular desserts, and their massive wine cellar- the largest private wine collection in the United States. Supposedly it takes 2 years of training and paying your dues to become a server here. As you can imagine, the servers are mostly older white men (as in most pricey restaurants) wearing suits looking clean and unhurried. The dining pace is relaxed and refined. Although Bern’s seats around 900 covers on a Friday night (400-500 during weeknights) the ambiance is pleasant and the experience is memorable despite their high volume.
The inside of this windowless massive building looks like an old-fashioned bordello with crushed red velvet, dimmed lighting, and portraits of so-and-so and whatshisname on the long walls. This restaurant is busy, so expect to wait in the large lounge area for 20 to 30 minutes and enjoy a cocktail while waiting for your table. We were celebrating my boyfriend’s graduation and visiting good friends so we went all out: before dinner drinks, a bottle of wine, and a massive steak! My boyfriend and I shared a 30 ounce dry-aged Porterhouse steak for two priced at $100.78. Their menu is lengthy and makes for an informational read if you’re interested (like I am) in learning about cuts of meat. We pored over their incomparable steak menu at home (we were really excited) which lists meat by the cut, aging, and thickness.
One of the best parts about this place is that it is pretty well-priced for what you get. I wouldn’t recommend ordering appetizers here- although I am sure they are delicious- but an incredible amount of food is included with your entrée price. Each entrée (per person) includes a really small but super delicious homemade French onion soup (no more than 4 ounces) served in small tins with toast and spelt bread. Next up was a fresh chef’s salad with your choice of dressing -I highly recommend the bleu cheese or buttermilk garlic- the citrus vinaigrette did nothing for me. THEN the entrée itself is paired with their vegetable selection of the night which was carrots and cooked greens (I think Swiss chard) AND a loaded baked potato!!! This was a crazy amount of food per person!
The steak was melt-in-your-mouth good. Wonderfully aged and bone-in- a perfectly prepared porterhouse is a real treat, and what I like best about dry-aged steaks is you can order it rare or medium rare and there is absolutely no blood. Regardless- blood doesn’t ick me out, but this might be a selling point for others that are fearful of ordering a steak less than medium or medium-well. After a really lovely dinner with great service, we took a tour of their enormous kitchen. Their kitchen was clean, the staff was professional, and it was neat to see how they organized their various stations.
The wine ‘cellar’ felt as though it was underground although you really just go down a step slightly to a very dim, faintly musty room lined with dark bottles in high rows. Their finest wines under lock and key are nestled in bubble wrap that glowed in the low light. The wine cages had opened boxes and wooden wine crates strewn on the floor. A small percentage of Bern’s giant wine collection is on site, they also own a private wine cellar located across the street from their compound where the trove is stored. Our server popped open a bottle of port from the late 1800s and let us get a whiff of the rare after-dinner that cost a hefty price for a one ounce pour- I believe he said $70- it might’ve been more.
After your tour of the kitchen and wine cellar they will drop you off at the wide staircase leading to the intimate Harry Waugh Dessert Room. The dessert room is a maze of old wine barrels repurposed into romantic booths each equipped with personalized sound systems and even a telephone that you can pick up to request a song be played by the pianist nearby. I ordered the Baked Alaska- mainly because this a classic dish you don’t really see anymore. I had actually never tried one- I’ve only heard about them in older movies or from older diners. It was a cold ball of macadamia ice cream atop a vanilla lush cake enclosed in homemade fluffy meringue and then doused tableside in Italian liqueurs before being set on fire. The spiraled meringue browned and bubbled letting off a wonderful aroma and triggered memories of making s’mores. The sweet liqueurs were spectacular and the entire combination of flavors reminded me of marzipan or those little chocolates filled with alcohol that your mom used to let you eat when visiting your great aunt (clearly I mean me- and I totally thought I could get drunk off those haha!).
After the dessert room we left in a warm haze, a little drunk and definitely full with leftovers in tow. I think it’s fun to get dressed up for a nice dinner and celebrate, and this is just the place to do it. So remember for your visit: reservations are highly recommended, wear something nice, ask the server for a tour of the kitchen and wine cellar, and make a reservation for the dessert room!
1208 S. Howard Avenue • Tampa, Florida • 33606 • (813) 251-2421