Friday, May 15, 2015

Bern's Steakhouse: Innovation and Passion

The unassuming entrance to one of the world's great steak houses
In 35 years of dining I have been to 97 different steak houses on three continents. One would think that there is nothing new under the sun - but I was blown away by Bern's steakhouse in Tampa, Florida.

The passion and sense of innovation for providing the customer with a perfect experience is unparalleled.

The Wine

Boasting of over half a million bottles of wine - in this one "prep" cellar I would have to drink 8 bottles of wine a day for 50 years and I still would not have emptied this cellar.
The founder, Bern Laxer traveled the world to select wine for his guests. In doing so he developed the largest wine collection in the world, with over 6800 types of wine, and half a million bottles. This also means that there are over 200 wines by the glass available for the customer.

Their wine by the glass menu features wines from 1937 on - the day I was there I enjoyed a 1937 Madera to start the meal. One can have an individual wine tasting from just the wines by the glass.
This wine was in the wines by the glass menu - our group decided to finish this bottle- it was only right
Part of the enjoyment of a great steak is great wine - and their wine is the most reasonably priced for comparable bottles I have seen at any of the restaurants I have been to in the last 30 years (adjusting for inflation).  Their reason: "Many of the wines we purchased when they were just harvested, at well below market to when they were released for drinking. We pass on the savings to our customers."

Bern's Wine Cellar is the perennial recipient of the Wine Spectator Grand Award, the magazine's highest honor bestowed upon restaurants that display an uncompromising and passionate commitment to quality. According to Wine Spectator, "these lists show serious depth of mature vintages, outstanding breadth in their vertical offerings, excellent harmony with the menu, superior organization and presentation, and 1,250 or more selections."

Do you have a favorite wine? Wish to try something new- their wine program allows the sommeliers to not only produce a new wine for your liking, but at a price point that you can afford.

All of this- this great wine list, wines by the glass, the experience and education about wine- because it is an essential part of the dining experience.

Coffee: They Started Roasting Theirs Long Before Starbucks

Bern's Coffee Roasters

Bern Laxer wanted to freshly roast his coffee, but he was told that coffee roasting machines were just too large, too cumbersome and he shouldn't do it.  But Bern was an inventive guy - so he decided that it might be easy to adapt older machines to roast and grind coffee beans.  The machines above are in a small corner of the kitchen. Consider - this was long before the Seattle coffee boom of the 1980's, before Starbucks was anything but a character in a Melville novel. Bern knew coffee was an important part of the dining experience.
As then, Bern's roast coffee beans daily to serve their customers and staff. 
I discovered, that across the street, in the wine shop at the Epicurean Hotel - if you ask, they will sell you some coffee beans.  You want to get these. These are a classic, rich, nutty roasted bean. Fresh daily. If I were them - I would be roasting more and selling these beans in the steak house, the hotel, and everywhere. I would mail order these beans, and they could put on the date they were roasted. 
But consider- way back when, because he knew it was the dinning experience, they began to roast their beans.
Using my Aeropress - I was able to have the most delicious coffee - freshly roasted coffee beans from Bern's

But more than that- they tested multiple varieties of different  beans and came up with the combination that is unique to their restaurant. 
For twenty years I have had Peet's coffee sent, they only send the day after it is roasted.  I would change to Bern's in a nanosecond if they were to sell their brand online - freshly roasted. 


You have heard the rules about spices: grind them if you can, if you get powdered then keep them in a cool dark place, and toss them out after a year. Not good enough.
Every morning spices are freshly ground for all their kitchens.  If the steak house needs 10 pounds of white pepper, the dessert restaurant needs 2, it is all ordered and every morning those spices are freshly ground and ready for the day.
Do you know what makes a great steak - fresh spices. 
Do you know what makes amazing food - fresh spices.
Wonder why this food tastes so much better - think fresh spices.

The Meat

My friend, Simon Majumdar and I in the meat locker at Bern's Steak House. The aging of meat is a process that allows for better flavor, and not cutting individuals steaks means that they can cut the steak to order. 
The best steak houses buy their meat, dry age their meat, and cut their meat to order. Some of them will only buy one type of steak to age, but Bern's buys them all. We managed to get a 72 day aged bit of Delmonico steak (perhaps more than a bit). I like mine with 2 inches of diameter done to a temperature of 132 degrees F. They made it perfectly.

Where from here?

The innovation that is Bern's Steakhouse continues. Their new restaurant - Haven's, is an amazing bit of new-American cuisine.  Things have changed over the years at Bern's, and that has made things better.

Bern Laxer use to have fish tanks for his fish, today they can get fish flown in (FedEx) fresh daily. Enough for their customers, and safer than having them in tanks. Although they have an impressive collection of Maine Lobsters.

Bern also had his own vegetable garden, and they still have that, and some vegetables come from that garden, but today more farmers are producing high quality produce that allows them to pick and choose instead of relying on their own crop.

In 97 steakhouses on three continents I found the best. Another reason to visit Tampa.

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