Mention the words “steak”, “fine dining” or even “dinner” anywhere in the Tampa Bay area and someone is most definitely going to bring up Bern’s. Bern’s has been operating on South Howard Avenue since the 1950s. From the exterior, it hardly looks special. It is a large, windowless building covered in white stucco and bearing a vintage sign. From the inside, it is a bit excessively dark, stately, and dripping with old world charm. Some say that if you squint hard enough you can see Don Draper in the corner with a liquored-up mistress.
Here is what they have to say about themselves:
“Perfectly aged steaks. One of the largest wine collections in the world. An internationally famous dessert room. Wine cellar and kitchen tours available for all guests. These elements have combined since 1956 to provide our guests with a unique culinary experience. Our prime steaks are cut to order, vegetables are grown locally on the Bern’s farm and sourced from the finest purveyors, and our menu includes 21 choices of caviar. Each visit to Bern’s Steak House takes you on a gastronomic adventure that defines Bern’s not as a meal but as an experience. We invite you to join us and experience Bern’s.” (source).
Now, if you want to dine at Bern’s Steakhouse, you will need a reservation, some semi-formal attire, an empty stomach and several hours to kill. If you are curious about this steak but aren’t too keen on spending an entire evening and what is likely several hundred dollars, then consider grabbing a bite to eat at the bar.
You heard it here first…the best-kept dining secret in Tampa is that you can eat at the Bern’s Steakhouse bar.
The important thing to keep in mind is that this will not be the full Bern’s experience. First of all, you cannot sit at the actual bar without putting your name on a list and waiting in the lounge area. Instead, nab a seat and a small cocktail table in the lounge and wait for a waiter to come to you. You will be able to order and enjoy a drink, and anything on the food menu that isn’t a steak or seafood. The appetizers, salads, and a few select entrees are all available to you!
Here is what you should order at the Bern’s Steakhouse Bar. Make sure you read the list all the way through…one of the items listed is a secret menu item!
Bern’s has one of the best wine cellars in the world. It contains more than 6,800 different selections and more than a half a million bottles. The wine menu is roughly the size of a novel, and you can grab bottles that range in price from $20 to more than $10,000. But if a bottle isn’t your jam, check out the wines by the glass menu. Red wine is really the way to go with the food recommendations listed below, so try out a the Lincourt Pinot Noir.
For an appetizer, definitely start with the Maine Lobster Cocktail. It consists of fresh Maine lobster tossed in citrus mayonnaise. It comes with micro greens, avocado, mango, and gaufrette potatoes. It is fresh, light, and a great way to start out your high-end yet casual bar meal!
Now, on to dinner. You may not be able to order a full steak at the bar, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get a taste of it! Here’s the big Bern’s Bar menu secret. It isn’t listed, but you can order a steak sandwich that is truly to die for. Not only will you get to taste the famous steak everyone talks about, but you will get to try some of the amazing steak house onion rings that the Bern’s kitchen staff literally invented a flouring machine in order to perfect (seriously, go on the kitchen tour and ask about it, it’s amazing).
If a sandwich isn’t totally your speed, definitely go for the Cobb Salad with charcoal grilled tenderloin tips. This sumptuous combination of fresh greens, grilled asparagus, charred red onion, avocado, tomatoes, mushroom, black olives, chopped eggs, smoked bacon, gorgonzola, crispy onion rings, and cabernet sauvignon is both decadent and fresh. You will never want to order another salad ever again.
Between Dinner and Dessert:
At most restaurants, you would move right from dinner on to dessert. But Bern’s is not most restaurants. Mention to your waiter that you want to go on the kitchen tour, and he will pencil you in! The Bern’s Kitchen Tour is basically free entertainment along with your meal. A waiter in training will take you through Bern’s fantastically large and spotlessly clean kitchen. You will get a glimpse at their grill, their soup and salad station, that amazing onion rings machine, and the antique coffee roasters that they still prepare their coffee in every day. Once you are done with the kitchen tour, they will walk you through their outstanding wine cellar, including antique and ungodly expensive wines.
At Bern’s, you don’t have dessert at your table. Instead, you head to the Harry Waugh Dessert Room. This incredible maze of 48 private rooms and vestibules offers an incredibly unique and private desert dining experience. If you are looking for a classic Bern’s dessert, definitely order the Banana Cheese pie. This recipe hasn’t changed since they first opened the restaurant, and for good reason. A beautiful combination of banana cream cheese mousse in an almond praline crust with fresh bananas and whipped cream, this dessert is everything a good dessert should be.
So the next time you want a high-end dining or vintage experience without the price tag or time commitment, grab a seat at the Bern’s Bar. You can try the delicious food, sip on some world famous wine, and generally enjoy the atmosphere. Whether you are passing through town for a weekend or a life-long Tampa Bay Resident, Bern’s is an experience that should not be missed, and the Bern’s Bar is a great way to get it!