Day of the Week: Saturday, 1/12
Total Bill: Main dining room – $215.99 (including 12% gratuity automatically added), Dessert Room – $58.21 (before any tip)
Breakdown: 2 drinks, 2 soft drinks, 1 appetizer, 1 caviar, 1 “appetizer” portion of an entrée, 1 lobster à la carte, 2 sides, 2 dessert wines, 3 desserts
Pros: Absolutely one-of-a-kind experience.
Verdict: Bern’s is a Tampa landmark.
I’ve been frequenting Bern’s since Mom and I moved to Tampa in 1992. She believes in a good meal, too. Bern’s is consistent without seeming stagnant. I know there was some controversy recently about the Bern’s farm but, even without that particular bit of lore, Bern’s has excellent food, an amazing wine cellar, and is the last truly elegant restaurants in Tampa (maybe in the whole state of Florida). The Foodies go there about once a month and thought we should write a review for the uninitiated.
The Foodies realize Bern’s seems expensive. But given the quality of the food and the portion sizes, Bern’s is an excellent value. Each full entrée comes with a French onion soup and salad as a starter. (Most items can also be ordered à la carte, meaning no soup and salad included, for a lower price.) If we hadn’t ordered caviar, our dinner bill would’ve been almost $40 less. If we had ordered two desserts instead of three, that would’ve shaved about $13 off our dessert bill. So you can see that our bill was higher because we’re a bit gluttonous.
Bern’s is also … very unique. First is the decor. I’ve heard people describe the downstairs as looking like a Spanish bordello, which isn’t entirely untrue. There’s lots of red on the walls and gilded furniture and busts and paintings of royal-looking people and dim lighting. But that’s how it’s always been and, hopefully, always will be. Second is the kitchen and wine cellar tour, which you can opt to do after dinner before retiring upstairs to the dessert room. I highly recommend doing this on your first visit. Third is the Harry Waugh Dessert Room, which is very warm and cozy. The booths are intimate and resemble old wine barrels. I don’t know of another restaurant where you go to another part of the building for dessert (and enjoy it so much). The dessert room is a destination in its own right.
When we were seated this night and started reviewing the menu, we noticed some changes. Our server, Raymond, confirmed the menu had been recently updated. New addition: short rib potato skins. I was tempted but since Hubby doesn’t eat beef I passed. Someone try them and tell me how they are! Unfortunately, the pork chops are off the menu now. Hubby was bummed but they still have lobsters and seared tuna, so he’ll live.
To start, we ordered wild American bowfin caviar ($31.50) “both ways” (traditional and Bern’s style with their foamed butters) with blinis (in addition to the brioche toast points) and the pork tasting special as an appetizer ($14.95). The pork tasting (which was also available as an entrée) was a pork chop, a dijon-glazed pork tenderloin, bacon, and pork belly. Bowfin caviar is one of the cheaper caviars available, which is what I prefer because the cheaper caviars tend to be a smaller size and saltier. Hubby is a fan of this, too. The pork tasting was kind of hit or miss, unfortunately. The pork chop and tenderloin were both excellent. The potatoes and brussel sprouts served on the size were also fantastic. But the bacon (very thick cut, not cured) was tough and the pork belly was overcooked. However, this is only the second thing I’ve ever had at Bern’s I didn’t like. (I had a short rib special last year with a barbecue sauce that was overly sweet.) Hubby had a Lindeman’s Lambic Framboise ($8.50) with our starters.
For dinner, I ordered the appetizer portion of the short rib special, which was rubbed with cinnamon and braised with red wine ($16.95). Hubby ordered a 2-1/2 pound lobster à la carte ($61.60). We shared a white truffle mac & cheese ($18.95) and truffled fried potatoes ($10.95). My “appetizer” was four short ribs with a side of cardoons au gratin. The short ribs were tender and the cinnamon flavor was subtle. The cardoons were new to me. The texture and appearance of them is like celery but the flavor is more like an artichoke. I would definitely eat cardoons again. They were such a nice change of pace from broccoli/broccolini, potatoes, etc. The mac & cheese comes in a huge bowl and is so amazing, we agree it’s the best mac & cheese we’ve ever had, hands down. (Mac & cheese is something we order any time it’s on the menu.) The truffled fried potatoes are cubed and fried with truffle oil and parmesan cheese – so decadent and fantastic. Hubby’s lobster was cooked perfectly (I got some claw, my favorite part of the lobster). With dinner I had a glass of Franciscan cabernet for $11.45. I think cab pairs really nicely with short rib and Franciscan makes an excellent cab.
Remember I said Bern’s is an excellent value for its portion sizes? I took home 1-1/2 short ribs and a good portion of cardoons. Hubby ended up with a whole claw. We also took home about two thirds of the mac & cheese and about half of the potatoes. The next night for dinner Hubby had lobster mac & cheese and a side of potatoes. One of the signs of a truly good restaurant is how well their food reheats. Bern’s leftovers are the best leftovers on the planet, period. Even the mac & cheese reheats well.
After dinner we went up to the dessert room, which was quite busy. We got an awesome booth with a door in a part of the dessert room I hadn’t been seated in before. Hubby and I each had a glass of Joseph Phelps eisrebe ($9). I ordered the malted chocolate cake ($12.50), which I think was new to the menu. It was a piece of malted chocolate cake, malted chocolate mousse, and a mini chocolate malt. It was more chocolate than I usually eat but not too sweet or rich. The chocolate malt and the cake were my favorite. All of it was topped with tiny malted milk balls, which were so fun. Hubby had the roasted pineapple ($10.95), which is basically a pineapple upside down cake. We shared a baked Alaska ($12.95), one of my absolute favorite desserts there. The ice cream in it is their fantastic, famous macadamia nut ice cream. I’m not an ice cream fan but most of the time that’s all I get for dessert at Bern’s. They make all of their ice cream in house and it’s AMAZING.
A meal at Bern’s isn’t short (plan for at least 2-1/2 hours if you go upstairs afterwards, longer if you tour the kitchen and wine cellar) but it’s an experience you must have. Bern’s is an institution that still deserves its reputation and is aging well.