We started our pre-holiday Jekyll Island weekend with a night out at Bern’s Steak House.
Earlier in the day, we had picked up my brother Andy and his partner Art at the Tampa Airport, as they had just flown in from Roanoke for our annual pre-Christmas celebration.
We checked in the Tampa Grand Hyatt for our one night’s stay, and quickly got ready for dinner.
We have stayed at this Hyatt several times before and it always makes for a wonderful staycation. The hotel overlooks the Tampa Bay as seen from our floor to ceiling windows, and we arrived just in time for the sunset. We had reserved two rooms, and with my Hyatt Diamond status, they upgraded Steve (DOS) and me to a nice Executive Suite.
DOS reserved a Town Car for our drive to Bern’s Steak House, as with the phone-book size wine and drink list, you would not want to drive home from there! I’ve blogged about Bern’s before, but just a quick recap of this special night out. Bern’s is more than a restaurant; it is truly a dining event. This family owned restaurant has been serving for more that 50 years, and has the largest private wine collection in the country, if not the world.
By upscale restaurants, Bern’s is not ultra fancy or pretentious, although the black-coat dressed waiters exude an aura of elegance and class. The lobby in fact, looks like something out of the Haunted Mansion at Disney World, with it’s eerie lighting, chandelier, and antique chairs.
While we wanted one of the two smaller rooms with only four or five tables, they were both reserved this evening for private functions. We were seated in one of the smaller, larger-sized rooms, and while not as private, it was quite comfortable for the four of us.
It was actually quite funny watching the tables come and go with new diners, while we slowly enjoyed multiple courses and drinks.
For people who haven’t been to Bern’s before, the menu can be quite intimidating due to the size and huge number of options, not to mention two different wine lists (one with some 150 wines by the glass or bottle, and one hard cover wine book with vintage wines, many several hundred dollars to the thousands a bottle! (One bottle they have is $45,000! We’ll have two please! LOL!) Of course you would need a one of a kind decanter (actually there are four, but only one in North America) to decant that fancy wine, shown here on display in the wine cellar.
Most people come for a steak and later dessert, which is served in a separate dessert room one floor above. Our group of four, however, managed to make a five and 1/2 hour dinner event, (between the two dining rooms), meanwhile watching the different diners come and go.
We had an outstanding waiter named Spencer, who was not the senior-most waiter with ‘only’ 24 years of service at Bern’s.
As we learned from the hardcover book we bought last time, the hiring process is very stringent, with the wait staff working at least a year in the kitchen and prep areas before being allowed to serve on the floor. For many of the staff, Bern’s is a lifelong career as part of the Bern’s family. From growing their own organic vegetables to the enormous wine collection, Bern’s is truly one of a kind.
We started our dining experience with two types of caviar (out of approximately 20 different types); one in the $40 range, with the other in the $115 range (an ounce). We paired the caviar with a nice Champagne Spencer recommended. While this sounds luxurious, and our table was the only one having caviar and later appetizers, Bern’s is a special night out with decadent dining, so why not celebrate! Like other waiters we’ve had at Bern’s, Spencer did not try to oversell us on anything; wines, caviar, appetizers etc; we simply told him our preferences and approximate price range, and Spencer picked some wonderful choices for us throughout the night.
After the Champagne and caviar, we had our first appetizer. DOS, Andy, and Art all had the Foi Gras, (two different types; one grilled and one pate) while I had the two mini crab cakes. They each had a glass of Sauternes wine with their appetizer, while I had a glass of Malbec.
Moving along at a very leisurely pace, we had our next appetizer of Ahi Tuna. The Ahi Tuna was actually an entree sized item, but we had Spencer slice it for as a shared appetizer. It also came with mini wasabi-potatoes which were perfect with the Ahi. We also shared a nice bottle of red wine with the Ahi course.
As we continued to watch the tables turn over; several groups of business men; others anniversary couples came and went; mostly having just the french onion soup and salad (included with entree) and a steak.
One group of eight at the table behind us, did order caviar, but served it with a carafe (not decanter, carafe; i.e. of cheap house wine) which somehow cheapened the caviar effect; DOS calls the cheap wine ‘pipple’, or for champagne, Cham-pipple. LOL!
Andy, Art, and DOS did have the French Onion soup, while I sat that course out. While the house salad is complimentary, we opted for the Cesar salad, which was prepared table-side by Spencer, with such precision he made it look like a work of art. I don’t like anchovies so he thoughtfully and artistically placed those on a separate dish while preparing the salad for us.
By the time we got to the main course, we both wisely order the steak trio which each of us split between the two of us. We had this last time at Bern’s and while the steak is served in mall portions (3 different cuts of steak @ 3 ounces a piece), it’s plenty of food after having all the appetizers, and it is ultra-premium beef as well. Spencer sliced the meat table-side and plated it along with the other vegetables on the plate. The three steaks were a 100 day old dry-aged delmonico, a prime filet, and the most decadent of all was the Wagu steak, which was so marbled it tasted like like fat.
We had a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that Spencer recommended which was wonderful and reasonably priced in the $100 range. Spencer decanted the wine for us at the table in a fancy decanter. Along with the added Bern’s touch, Spencer used a lit candle to look out for any sediment as he poured the wine in the decanter.
While reviewing the photos for this blog post, I was surprised we didn’t get our usual photo of our table or even photo with us and our waiter. I think we were having too much fun to think to do this (or more likely it was the vino!)
After we got thru the lengthy dinner, we were still far from done, as the fun part was still to come – the dessert course! But first we took the complimentary tour of the busy galley area, where you are let thru by one of the wait staff in training. All waiters at Bern’s work at least a year in the galley so they understand all about the food being served, the preparation, and the organically grown vegetables they serve. Quite a busy place, we tried to stay out of the way!
After the galley tour, we took a walk thru part of the wine cellar, which is only about 10% of their collection (the rest is ware-housed across the street). We actually walked thru the serving area of the wines by the glass (some 150+ wines by the glass) to get to the cellar.
On display here at the restaurant however, the wine cellar contains the ultra-valuable aged wine collection, with many bottles decades old covered by plastic to help preserve the wine.
So finally the dessert course! The dessert course at Bern’s is a real treat and is served in a different dining room one floor up, with different wait staff. Each party sits in their own wine shaped ‘cask’ which offers privacy as well as a touch of class to the final course. We had a quick group photo taken of us on the staircase leading up to the dessert room after the wine cellar tour.
The dessert course is a bit of a misnomer as it can be whatever you want it to be, from coffee, cordials, wine or port flights etc, as well as different cheese platters and of course decadent desserts. With an in-cask (booth) box you can even select several channels of light music to add additional ambiance to this darkened and subdued room.
We finished up with three shared desserts, some port wine to sip, and a glass of Cabernet to top it off. As always, Bern’s did not disappoint, and judging by the five and a half hours we were there, a good time was had by all. Here DOS sits on the throne in the lobby, now vacant after the midnight bewitching hour!
An Uber trip back to the Hyatt, and as it was close to 1am, it was definitely time for bed!