Dinner at Bern’s Steakhouse is always a night to remember. This family-owned restaurant has been operating since 1956, and on their website refers to Bern’s as ” . . . not as a meal but an experience.” Bern’s is quite unique in many ways, from it’s world class ultra-premium steaks to its iconic wine list (Bern’s has the largest private wine cellar in the world) to it’s separate and unique dessert dining room; a night out at Bern’s IS truly an experience.
Before heading to Bern’s, we had a leisurely afternoon wondering the property of our hotel for the weekend, the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.
We’ve stayed here before and love walking around the resort-like grounds of the property which overlooks the Tampa Bay, yet is just across from the Tampa International Airport. Like the Miami Hilton Airport on Blue Lagoon, the nature walk around the hotel property offers a tranquil and scenic setting for walking around the paths, and even watching a plane take off as well.
We had dinner reservations for Bern’s Steakhouse at 7pm, a little bit early for us but dinner at Bern’s is a several hour event, (average for us is about five hours) with a separate dessert room on another floor, where you dine in after your dinner. We had scheduled an Uber pickup from the hotel for 6:20pm, but as fate would have it, the driver was quite lost. We love the Uber app where you can see where the driver is, and it went from 4 minutes to 8 minutes to 10 minutes, at which time we called him. When the drive time got up to 19 minutes we canceled and got a cab. In this day with GPS enabled cars or apps, I don’t know how you can get lost, but he must have gone to the wrong Hyatt as he mentioned Clearwater where there is another Hyatt. Anyway we got to Bern’s shortly after 7pm, and had just a 5 minute wait. Here is a photo of the lobby; it looks like something out of the Haunted Mansion at Disney rather than a world-class steakhouse! Yet that’s the Bern’s difference and charm as multiple staff are waiting to show you to your table.
DOS had requested one of the quieter rooms, as some are quite large and noisy, and fortunately the Bern’s staff accommodated us in the intimate room with five tables we had on our last visit.
While the waiters at Bern’s are quite formal with their black jackets, our waiter Carl was very personable, and genuinely aimed to deliver the high quality experience you expect from a fine restaurant. Here he is decanting our dinner wine with a candle illuminating the bottle to check for sediment – very classy!On our last visit to Bern’s, we bought the hardcover book detailing the history of the restaurant, owner’s family, food and wines, as well as many stories about the employees over the years. Many waiters have spent their whole career at Bern’s, and the training is lengthy in all facets of the operation. I shared with Carl one of the stories I read about how each waiter must have a different first name, even if it meant using a middle or other name if it was a duplicate. Carl appreciated my ‘research’ and with a slight laugh said there was once a cook, with the same name, but he went in the service years ago.
The Bern’s Steakhouse wine list (actually there are two) is a hardcover book literally covering the world of wine from many countries, varietals, and vintages with something for everyone, even those wanting a $10,000 bottle of wine if they want!
Among other things that help make Bern’s an experience, rather than just a nice dinner, are the some 150+ wines by the glass. There is a separate menu (softcover) listing these wines by the glass (and bottle too), should you want to experiment a bit as we always do. While we don’t normally like wines by the glass unless they’ve been ‘Corvavin-ized’, at Bern’s there is such a volume and turnover that spoilage is not a problem. Bern’s has the largest private wine selection in the world and after dinner they offer you a complimentary tour of the kitchen and wine cellar, which only holds about 10% of their collection (the rest is housed in the huge warehouse across the street from it). Within this collection are hundreds if not thousands of bottles of library-edition wines that are covered with individual bags (and dust!) for years of storage. I’m going out of sequence of the nights events, but here are some photos of the wine cellar and kitchen we toured after dinner, before going to the dessert room.
Now that the basic history of Bern’s is behind us, I can get to the meal. Steve Dos routinely reviews the menu of a restaurant before we have arrived, which is almost a necessity at Bern’s, as the menu is so extensive and a basic game plan is essential.
Well, at least that’s the way Steve Dos feels. The basic meal at Bern’s includes much more than the main dish. All entrees include, French Onion Soup Au Gratin, House Salad, Baked potato, Onion rings and the Vegetable Tasting of the Evening. The first time we came to Bern’s, several years ago, was with our good friends Ben and Tom. That being our first time, we were so impressed with the dining experience. But looking back on it, we have learned so much since that first visit. On that first visit, we were seated in a quite loud and busy part of the restaurant. We ordered our steaks, which came as a complete meal, with the items described above, which come with all meals. The pace of the meal, while not rushed, ran smoothly along with one course coming after the next. After about an hour, the main portion of the meal was complete, and we were off for our kitchen and wine tour and then off to the dessert room. That may be great if you are rushing for the next train out of town, but it isn’t our idea of a relaxed dining experience.
Bern’s has so much to offer that while ordering a steak and taking what comes with it is nice enough, you are missing what makes Bern’s a special dining experience. Bern’s has at least 20 different types of caviar on their menu, each presented with the traditional accompaniments and of course a mother of pearl spoon. On this visit we chose to have the Fresh Chattanooga Prestige Caviar. Jet black eggs with a sweet, nut like flavor. Carl, our waiter suggested several champagne choices for this course, and we picked the Schramsberg 2014 Brut Rose from Calistoga Napa, CA. An outstanding choice! As Carl walked away he said “Cavier and Champagne dreams! Enjoy”!
Our next course was the Bern’s Spicy Seared Tuna, which is served with green papaya, fennel cucumber salad, orange balsamic reduction and spicy chili.
Carl suggested several wine choices for that course. We were debating one of two white wines, so Carl brought over a small taste of one of the wines, which was a Gewürztraminer. While it was OK, we’re not big fans of Gewürztraminer, and decided to choose something else which we were familiar with instead. We chose the Rombauer Chardonnay.
Carl still left the first sample, which truthfully was half a glass for each of us. So we enjoyed two different wine with our seared tuna course.
Our next course were two lump crab cakes. This came with an avocado green tomato salad. While normally topped with mustard butter sauce, we asked for that sauce on the side as well as some red cocktail sauce. We paired that with a Cakebread Chardonnay.
Our next course was the Onion Soup au gratin, which I skipped, but Steve Dos enjoyed. While neither one of us can eat onions in excess, Steve Dos made sure he ate all the cheese off the top of the soup.
The salad which comes with the meal is really very nice and comes from Bern’s own garden. We decided to skip that salad and order the Caesar Salad, which is prepared tableside and is something extra delicious.
Steve Dos’ salad also had some truly delicious white anchovies artfully arranged.
While we didn’t have a different paired wine with this course, we had enough wine remaining from our other courses to suffice.
Now to the main course. Part of the main menu are their specials for the evening, which is called their Kitchen within a Kitchen menu. When available, which is was tonight, is what they call Luxe Beef Tasting. This is basically a three ounce serving of each of three special cuts of meat. A Japanese Wagyu A5 strip, a 100 day dry aged Delmonico (ribeye) and a filet mignon. A great way of sampling and comparing these three cuts of meat.
With this special course we had a bottle of Goldschmidt Hilary Cabernet Sauvignon. Carl decanted this wine for us even checking for sediment with a candle, how elegant!
The meal came with fresh carrots and string beans, organically grown in the Bern’s private gardens as well as the onion ring strings.
Three and a half hours after we began our meal, we were ready to proceed to our kitchen and wine tour before heading to the dessert room upstairs.
While we have taken the kitchen and wine tours before, it’s always fun seeing how organized the kitchen is run and the different food stations. Part of the early stages of becoming a server at Bern’s steakhouse is the two year training process. The servers start by giving tours of the kitchen to patrons between their main dining course and the dessert room. Then one of the wine sommeliers gives the tours of the wine cellar.
Next it’s time to visit the Dessert Room, which is upstairs and has many small rooms, accommodating between two and maybe as many as 12 people.
Each party gets their own private room. The rooms are made from wood that came from wine barrels. Each room has a sound system where you can choose from different types of music. There is even a telephone where you can call your waitperson or even request music from the piano player near the entrance of the Dessert Room.
Once we arrived at the Dessert Room and were seated, we ordered the Special Bern’s coffee while we were choosing from the menu. Bern’s Coffee is very finely ground coffee, which has been marinated in Kahlua and flavored liqueurs for ten weeks. It is prepared as a cappuccino and topped with a float of vanilla cream and finely ground coffee.
After our coffee arrived we ordered a glass of 30 year Sandeman port and then we ordered two desserts, a Smores cheesecake for me and an apple pie with cinnamon ice cream for Steve Dos.
Later after finishing our dessert, we had hoped to order a cheese course, but there was just no room left in our stomachs. Well, maybe for one more glass of a fine Cabernet Sauvignon.
We made a note in our minds next time maybe we would share the steak course, instead of getting one for each of us, and them be able to squeeze a cheese course in after dessert.
Well, it was just past midnight and our Five Hour Bern’s meal was just about over. We paid the check and ordered our Uber to head back to the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay