While skimming through an issue of Wine Spectator at work a little while ago, I came across a little gem I was unaware of in the heart of the Soho district of Tampa, Florida. Before that day, I had never heard of Bern’s Steak House; named the second best steak house in the country and the largest private wine collection in the world. This to me was music to my ears. It earned the top award from Wine Spectator among seldom other restaurants of which are in Milan, Paris, and New York. I couldn’t help but wonder how such a restaurant could exist in Tampa, Florida…aka “Trampa”.
From that moment, I made reservations to celebrate my birthday there with my family.
Bern’s is truly a culinary experience, rather than just a dinner at a steak house. In fact, I do not even know where to start. It is an old feeling steak house, where the entrance hallway is an overwhelming amount of gaudy red velvet and statues along with over bearing gold chairs. Reservations are a must here, they even need to be reviewed and accepted. There are several different dining rooms named after regions of importance such as the Rhone room ( which we sat in), boasting the beauty of the prestigious wine region in the south of France.
When seated, you will see, placed on a stand, the five pound wine list. Yes…you’ve read that correctly. The main reason for Bern’s fame is the immaculate collection of wine they boast. Whether you are one of the top sommeliers in the world or a wine novice, it will surely impress you. There are well-over half a million bottles of wine in the cellar connected to the restaurant. This includes a variety of 5,500 different varieties of red wine, over 1,000 kinds of whites, and many others such as sherry’s, sparkling wine, ports, and even rare vintages.
One of the most impressive things I have learned about Bern’s is what happened during a routine inventory check of their wine one ordinary day. The sommelier for Bern’s at the time saw a double magnum bottle at the top of the shelf facing a different way than the rest of the bottles. To his surprise, it was a 1947 bottle of Chateau Latour; one of the most famed vintages of all time. It now graces their wine list, but is locked up in a chest with a price tag of a lovely $30,000. Imagine that. (Pictured below, pardon my terrible cell phone camera quality.)
On to dinner: Their menu has been put together in traditional steak house fashion. It pays great attention to detail on their many beautiful cuts of beef, offering several charts on temperatures, thickness, colors, crusts, and cuts. There are even pages in the menu dedicated to simply informing you what you will get with each cut of beef. I found it quite informing and interesting to read. I opted for the rather boring, but delicious, choice of an 8 oz. filet with a thickness of 1.5″. All of the steaks and chops come with a small bowl of french onion soup (again, very traditional), a salad with a variety of delicious sounding dressings, the chef’s choice of vegetable, fried onion strings, and a very delicious very big baked potato with the works on it that is prepared table-side by your waiter. Needless to say, everything was simply delicious and our waiter was charming. In todays day in age, it is very difficult to get a perfect medium rare steak, but Bern’s hit the nail on the head. I haven’t had such a delicious, melt in your mouth filet in such a while. It also paired beautifully with the Cab we ordered.
So, when dining at Bern’s, you must inform your waiter before dinner that you would like to take the tour after dinner. He will set it all up for you. This is one of the most exciting parts of dining here, the tour of the kitchen and of course, the wine cellar. The kitchen was nothing new to me, as I work at a steak restaurant and have seen it in action many, many times. Though it was impressive the amount of people working in it (not to mention how handsome a few of them were 🙂 ). Bravo gentlemen! After the kitchen, you pass the Cave du Fromage; the temperature and humidity controlled room to ensure proper aging of all of their cheeses. (Literally translates from French to the cheese cave). You are informed that everything is organically and locally grown on the owner’s farm, where every waiter needs to work for 1 year before their employment as a server.
Ahh, the best part of the tour, the wine cellar. Back behind the kitchen and through a narrow hallway that slopes down into darkness and doesn’t pair well with a girl in heels who has had a few glasses of wine, is the world’s largest private wine collection. It starts off with all of the bottles for the wine by the glass, offering over 200 varieties. Then you are lead by a room where all of the rare vintages are held behind gates, as well as the $30,000 bottle. All of the bottles are in the racks within their own individual plastic bags, ensuring that if the labels fall off they will remain with the correct bottle. Many of these bottles are from the early 1900s and some even range in the 1800s, up until their oldest bottle of a 1792 Madeira. Quite impressive.
Continuing on, you reach the majority: the rest of the wine. The tour only goes a couple aisles back but it is a must see. After the tour, if you have reservations, you may proceed to the Harry Waugh dessert room. Yes…you need seperate reservations in advance to have dessert in the upstairs room. It is well worth it though, boasting Sinatra style booths and music along with an overwhelming variety of fresh desserts, vintage ports, cognac, and dessert wine.
All in all, this was such an experience and I will for sure be back for more! Ciao, tutti.