Bern's Steakhouse: The best kept wine secret in Tampa

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But the reason Bern's is a favorite haunt -- certainly not the décor but the frickin' amazing wine list. It's like my own personal wine cellar that I didn't have to invest in or exercise patience while it aged. With over 6,000 labels there literally isn't anywhere else on earth that equals the selection. 140 new and aged wines are poured by the glass. Right here in Tampa. And it's not like they rape you with the prices. Founder Bern Laxer bought the wine eons ago at lower costs and his son, David, keeps them reasonable. But he could easily get greedy and charge more simply because of supply/demand economics. But he doesn't. And I like that. And you should too.

It's not just me that worships the place (full disclosure: I worked there two years in the early 90's and, although I was severely underpaid, I still have a fond affection for it). Winemakers from around the world make pilgrimages to Bern's. I would imagine many even put Tampa Bay on their itinerary so they can delve into the vinous rarities unfound elsewhere in their travels. One time, I introduced the winemaker from Zaca Mesa in Santa Barbara to Bern's (his first time). Imagine his shock when they had a bottle of Zaca Mesa 1981 Zinfandel that his winery didn't even stock in their vintage library. It was a happy moment.


Last night, with the help of Bern's sommelier Brad Dixon, we drank a 1996 Louis Michel Chablis ($56) that, even after 13 years trapped in a bottle, still had bright white peach, steely minerality and fantastic, bracing acidity. Our second bottle (ahem, there were five of us) was a 1978 Bouchard Pere et Fils red Burgundy (pinot noir - $72) that had lost most of its fruit already but the juice had an earthy, leathery appeal that paired astoundingly well with the steak. But the piece de resistance was the relative bargain: A 1979 Joseph Swan Zinfandel ($52). This 20-year-old wine still flourished with fruit like raspberry and cherry and its once-hefty tannins had mellowed enough to cascade down your throat with nary an astringent tingle. Oh, yeah then we went upstairs and drank a 1983 Fonseca port. By the glass for $8. Wow.

Other wines by the glass to explore: Louis Martini 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.40 per glass), Parducci 1976 Carignane ($8) and a Chateau Montmirail 1980 Vacqueras ($5.45).

I know Bern's has an unfortunate, hoity-toity special occasion image. But to put you at ease to drop in and grab a glass, rest assured Bern's has spurned the snooty image of yesteryear and anyone can throw on jeans and enjoy the wine spoils.

OK, so maybe it's not particularly a secret or a new hotspot, but I find it strange that visitors appreciate Bern's Steakhouse more than locals. I mean, when's the last time you went to our world-famous steakhouse? Yes, it's expensive but it's a better deal than Fleming's or Ruth Chris: Last night, I paid $34.67 for an expertly cooked, aged ribeye (or Delmonico) that came with French onion soup, salad, baked potato and two vegetables. All inclusive. At the other places, you shell out $35 for a slab of meat on a plate with no sauce or even a cucumber garnish.

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