Florida has been a family favourite destination for many years for the obvious reasons; sunshine, shopping and sport. However, when I think of Florida I don’t really think of great restaurants like you get in London or Italy. Everything always comes either fried, covered in sauce and normally in giant portion sizes.
There is however one restaurant in Florida that people will fly across the world for, just to experience their superb steak and it goes by the name of Bern’s Steakhouse.
I first went to Bern’s nearly 20 years ago and being such a picky eater and probably too young to realise or understand what a dining revolution they had created, I knew I had to go back when I went back there on holiday.
It’s hard to know where to start to explain just what a treat you’re in for if you get the chance to go, so I think it’s best to start with some background.
Bern’s is a restaurant where they make everything themselves and I mean everything! From the vegetables grown and meat reared on their farm and they even go as far as to produce their own cutlery in-house.
Bern’s has a different attitude toward staff as well. It treats its staff like family, which isn’t surprising when you realise how long the staff have worked there having started in the kitchen, through to the farms and into the wine cellar before having any chance of being put in front of a customer. A career at Bern’s is a career for life and you can tell that immediately from the attentiveness and friendliness of the waiters.
When you arrive at Bern’s, you wonder if you’re in the right place because it looks a very plain building from the outside, but then you spot all the limos pulling up under the awning and you know there’s something special hidden behind those walls.
You walk in to a very grand room with a beautiful dark wood bannister spiralling up to the right and the walls are covered in rich reds and maroons giving a regal feel to the entrance room. You’re ushered through to the lounge bar to enjoy a pre-drink where I opted for some sweet Moscato wine. The lighting is so dark that the waiters have little torch lights on them just in case you’re finding it really tough to make out the wine list!
Once our table was free we were taken through to one of the many rooms filled with endless guests. To give you an idea Bern’s regularly serves up to 800 covers a night but you’d never know it with the smooth operation delivered. In fact it’s only when you get to tour the kitchens that you see just how manic it is behind the scenes!
We had a wonderful waiter that like all the staff on the floor had worked for Bern’s first in the kitchen, then on the farm and now after many years he was showing just why the vast experience across the business makes him great at what he does.
With an unbelievably extensive wine list, I lost Will for about 20 minutes trying to pick the wine for the evening but we were given some gorgeous cheese biscuits to nibble on whilst we deliberated.
Our waiter however, seeing Will’s pain, had a chat about the kind of wines we like to drink and directed us towards the Californian Pinot Noir. He promised if we didn’t like it, let him know and we could pick something else.
With the wine ordered it was on to the menu. It’s not the simplest menu to understand mainly because they clearly know how to do steak and really drill down to the details. You can pick the cut, the thickness, how you’d like it done (beyond your usual, rare, medium and well done) and then there’s the sides that come with.
This is where I think Bern’s is actually excellent value for money when you compare it against the great steak restaurants in London such as Sophie’s Steakhouse and Hawksmoor.
Included in the price of your steak are the entrees which include:
French Onion Soup accompanied by large garlic croutons which was simply cheesy heaven. The caramelised onions were covered in a moist bread layer which was smothered it in melted cheese. was like you were dipping your garlic croutons into a cheese fondue only to find that you could scoop up some beautiful onions with the melted cheese.
This was followed by a salad with your choice of dressing. I went for the French dressing which was probably the most divine salad dressing I’ve ever tried due to the thick punchy nature of it. Will went for the Blue Cheese which is made from cheese that has matured for 60 days which therefore delivered strong creamy flavours.
Then came the star of the show.. the steak.
I opted for a fillet steak.. 10 oz (even though the waiter told me I’d only manage 8oz… he clearly didn’t know me well), medium rare, 1 ¾ inches thick. What can I say… it was melt in your mouth fantastic. Simply stunning.
Will went for a 20oz Porterhouse, medium rare 1 ¾ thick. And wow… it was obscenely big. I’ve never seen Will look quite so intimidated.
Where most restaurants serve chips alongside steak, Bern’s speciality is a baked potato. But, this isn’t just any kind of baked potato. They come out whole on a tray and your waiter pierces them and cuts them up at a ridiculous speed in front of you and adds sweet butter, sour cream, crispy bacon and chives.
Your steak also comes with a never ending mountain of crispy onion rings and two vegetables which in our case were buttery carrots and pak choi.
Do you see why I say, Bern’s does things differently!
With our meal devoured and us both feeling obscenely full, we were given the option of the kitchen tour and a wine cellar tour. As we needed to stretch our legs and find some breathing room before taking on the dessert we took up the offer.
The kitchens were civilised mayhem and it was fascinating to see the organised chaos going on behind the scenes. The wine cellar was ‘jaw-droppingly’ impressive! It’s the largest privately owned wine cellar in the world and only a few months ago they discovered they had a £30k bottle of wine they didn’t even know about. I can imagine keeping track of 500,000 bottles would be quite challenging.
We were then ushered up to the next part of our dining experience… the dessert room, named after Harry Waugh.
The Harry Waugh Dessert Room was built as a tribute to Mr. Harry Waugh, an internationally known and respected wine connoisseur and a good friend to Bern Laxer.
Like the steaks, this isn’t your usual dessert experience. You have your own private booth with a telephone that you can dial through to the piano man to request your favourite song. Anyone who knows me, is well aware of my infatuation with a certain piano bar in London so I was in heaven! A dessert menu that was as thick as the wine list accompanied by the delectable tones of a piano player.
I find it hard enough to pick a dessert at the best of times and a menu list as extensive as this was just overwhelming.
Luckily enough they do a ‘Taste of Bern’s Dessert’ which includes their top 5 favourites. Phew! I also ordered an incredibly sweet dessert wine to go with my dessert.
Whilst waiting for our dessert Will and I both ordered the ‘Bern’s Cappuccino’ as a bit of a pick me up as were still a bit jet lagged, but it turned out to be a dessert in itself. Bern’s Cappuccino was freshly ground coffee marinated in Kahlua and flavoured liquers. This was then topped with a float of vanilla cream and finely-ground coffee. Lovely… but I could have probably done with a normal cappuccino.
When the ‘Taste of Bern’s Dessert’ arrived we had made just about enough room for it… just… and made our way across the plate of delectable puddings.
From left to right on the photo:
Macadamia Decadence Cake – This is a Bern’s vintage recipe of creamy, smooth chocolate baked in a macadamia nut crust, chocolate raspberry cream, fresh raspberries.
Banana Cheese Pie – Banana cream cheese mousse on an almond praline crust with fresh banana and whipped cream.
King Midas – A signature recipe of rich and moist carrot cake with Macadamia Nut Ice Cream, and hot fudge.
Chocolate Cheese Pie – Chocolate cheesecake and milk chocolate mousse on a dense chocolate crust topped with whipped cream and milk chocolate shavings.
Cheesecake Gert – creamy smooth vanilla cheesecake on a vanilla citrus biscotti crust topped with whipped cream and a fresh strawberry.
The whole meal (including pre-drinks, wine, and dessert wine) came to £230 which I know is expensive, but with everything that came with, I felt the meal was actually very good value. Plus, we wouldn’t need to eat again for a week!
If you do make it over to Tampa, then don’t miss out on what is a lesson to all restaurants in service, value and an unquestionably dining experience never to be forgotten.