So I realize that this series is supposed to be strictly Birmingham restaurants. But I’m a rulebreaker, and we went to Tampa. Therefore, you get a Tampa edition.
But really, this is just an excuse to tell you about the most curious restaurant experience we’ve ever had – you won’t want to miss restaurant # 6.
4. Louis Pappas Market and Café – As I mentioned before, one of the reasons we chose Tampa was so that we could visit Tarpon Springs, a Greek town about an hour out of Tampa. It was a special surprise that Tampa, also, was covered up with Greek Restaurants.
When our flight arrived, it was cold, rainy, and nearly time for rush hour traffic, which we heard was especially bad. So we decided to wait it all out by having dinner downtown at Louis Pappas.
We studied the menu for about ten minutes, trying to narrow down what we wanted – because I for one wanted everything.
We started out with Greek Fries.
Greek Fries are one of those vague menu items that can be anything from soft wedges of potatoes floating in Olive Oil, to French Fries with oregano sprinkled on them, to homemade potato chips. These Greek Fries were of the potato chip variety.
But these potato chips were freshly made, still hot, and had feta and green onions sprinkled on top. AND were accompanied by my favorite sauce in the world, Tzatziki Sauce, as a side.
I know I could have been fine with just this, but I also ordered the Greek Chicken and Rice.
It seems a rather simple dish, but Greeks do chicken differently than anyone else – they will serve you the juiciest, most flavorful piece of poultry you will ever put in your mouth.
And this one definitely lived up to the stereotype. I didn’t care for the rice (it had an out-of-place seafood taste,) but it’s not like I needed it after all of those chips.
Chris asked them to give him whatever would give him the most gyro meat, and so he ended up with the Gyro Platter.
And he was well pleased.
5. The next day, we wandered down the St. Petersburg Beach and popped in a completely random Greek Restaurant called, of all the unappetizing words to name an eating establishment, Skidders.
It looked like an old IHOP. But we sat on the deck, away from the frosted glass booth dividers and off-rose-colored walls, and really enjoyed our meal. I got a hamburger with feta,
And Chris ordered a Pizza.
It wasn’t anything completely fantastic, but it was a great outdoor meal.
But the experience I really wanted to tell you about was our Flagship Anniversary Dinner.
6. Everyone that knew anything of Tampa told us that we had to eat at Bern’s Steakhouse while we were there.
“You MUST go there. It’s an experience you can’t miss!!”
“It’s THE best steakhouse in the world.”
“Oh yes, Bern’s is the best restaurant in Tampa by a mile. It will cost you everything you have, but you can’t miss it.”
Nobody. Not a single person. NOT A SOUL. Mentioned that it was also the creepiest restaurant this side of Transylvania.
The website was our only clue: when Chris read that the meal included dinner, a tour of the kitchen and wine cellar, followed by another table in the dessert room upstairs, I made jokes about that old story my Dad told – about the best steakhouse in the world that gave kitchen tours…but no one ever returned.
Delicious steaks, people make.
But we were sure that the similarity ended there.
We dressed in our best, as there was a strict no-denim policy.
(I was unsure as to whether they would confiscate my denim jacket on the way in, but I risked it. After all, I’m a rulebreaker.)
The sign was simple and unassuming for the restaurant with the world’s biggest wine collection.
The building had almost no windows, looking more like a Sanatorium or Secret Society than Tampa’s best restaurant.
And the minute we walked in the lobby, we felt like we had been dropped into the movie Clue.
The sconces had an otherworldly orange glow to them, and their tentacle-like fingers holding the glowing orbs in place were not at all comforting.
(Nor were the naked baby banisters.)
The walls were covered with portraits that made you certain their eyes would follow you as you walked.
And the sheer amount of red-tinted grandioseness of the whole place was quite stunning.
Despite the fact that they had something like seven or nine or maybe five dining rooms and the place was Scooby-Doo’s-Doghouse/Mary-Poppin’s-Purse gigantic on the inside, we couldn’t get reservations until 9pm. We got seated somewhere around 9:15pm, and our waiter was a jubilant and endearing older gentleman from the former Yugoslavia.
During our meal, he told us the same phrase six times – because we counted.
“Bern’s Steakhouse – there’s nothing like it! Once you eat here, nothing is ever the same again!”
I was distracted from the menu at hand by the encyclopedia of a wine list.
I was determined to find the most expensive wine available – just to see what it was.
I thought I had found it…but later, our waiter informed me that no, the most expensive bottle was actually $30,000.
On to the food. We’re on a Capresi Salad kick, and this one was the best we’ve had. Not surprising, since they grow their own tomatoes and make their own cheese.
Next, he brought us French Onion Soup.
French Onion Soup is always a surprise for me, because I expect it to be a thin, low-calorie soup.
I always forget about the inch-thick cheese on top.
But I’m pretty sure I scraped the bowl clean.
“There are sixteen different elements to this salad,” our waiter proudly told us. “All grown in our garden. And the sprouts are grown in the kitchen! Once you eat here, nothing is ever the same again!”
And yes, it was an amazing salad – especially since I’m on an extreme avocado bender.
Finally, our steaks, potatoes, and onion rings were brought out. Thanks to the last three courses, I wasn’t at all sad that my steak was small – and still ended up taking most of it with me.
After dinner, it was our turn to tour the kitchen and wine cellar. Our waiter led the way as we walked through room after room of medieval fancery.
By this time it was 11:30pm, so the kitchen was spotless and the butcher knives were all clean for the night – something that made for uninteresting photos, but was greatly comforting with regards to our fate.
I did spot the growing sprouts, though.
Next on our tour was the wine cellar, where Chris and our waiter had a serious talk about the security of such a place.
There was an entire wing behind metal bars and padlocked, and only one man had the key. If you wanted that $30,000 bottle, I’m pretty sure they would run a credit check first.
And the age of the bottles was equally impressive.
As we were passing back through on the way up to our dessert booth, all of the dining rooms were empty and set for the next day’s customers.
The dessert floor was full of different sized, oval-shaped private booths made out of old wine casks and Plexiglas. It was dark and bizarre, but the dessert menu made it all worth it.
Also? Each booth had musical choices and it’s own volume control.
We started with the live music, but the pianist gave it up at midnight, so we moved on to anything that would keep our mind off of the fact that we were enclosed in a soundproof casket after midnight on the second floor of a windowless building.
But again. The desserts made it all worth it.
Our new waiter explained the menu with, “On the first page, you will find our coffees. On pages two through four, you will find our desserts. And the next fifty pages, are dessert drinks.”
These people clearly have a good deal with a printing press. And a wide range of clientele. You can get a $3 cup of hand-picked, house roasted, ground & brewed to order coffee (which Chris loved,) or you can mortgage the crown jewels and try 1 1/2 ounces of a rare Remy-Martin cognac blend for $1200.
I repeat – for an ounce and a half.
I got the world’s most beautiful cappuccino,
To go along with my Hazelnut Cake.
Chris ordered The Brown Sugar, which was chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake, a cookies and cream ice cream sandwich, and warm brown sugar blondie
(And a side of Cinnamon Ice Cream. Just to make sure we had plenty.)
The amount of calories we consumed in that restaurant was embarrassing, and our scale still testifies to that truth.
But every one of them was worth it.
In summary, we arrived at 9:00. Two tables, two waiters, a tour, and 3 1/2 hours later, we rolled ourselves to the car at 12:30 in the morning and managed to drive back to our room.
And for the rest of our lives, if we know someone that’s going to Tampa, we will tell them, “You MUST go to Bern’s Steakhouse! Nothing is ever the same again!”
And we’ll just leave it at that.