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Report on visit to Tampa: Bern's, devil crab, sandwiches

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Hi Tampa chowhounds, I live in London and had a business trip to Tampa this week. Thanks for the amazing posts I found on this board. Wanted to share a little of my adventures.
First, I ran into the devil crab threads on this board and realized the true chowhound opportunity. So I made some special trips to find them. Cacciatore Sons was closed when I got there so I can't comment. Alessi bakery was open so that was the first one I tried. So the concept was new to me but I will say that it was very meaty-- the filling wasn't stretched with anything-- and very spicy in a tabasco way. The dough was like a hush puppy. My review is : yum! This is what I call snack food. They were made in advance and sitting in a hot deli case, and cost about $2.69 each.
Inspired by this success and other ambitions, I went to Brocato's the next day. Ordered takeaway, for grazing throughout the day. I got the devil crab, a cuban toast, and the roast pork sandwich. Let me discuss the devil crab first. It was nice, but not spicy enough without the addition of hot sauce (and by the way, did I mention I am from London? I don't have a high spice threshold). Also the filling was stretched with bell pepper, so the crab flavor was not really enough for me. The dough was nice, more like an egg and bread crumb deep fried texture. They were made in advance and in a hot case, and were about 3.49 each.
I certainly got through the whole thing pretty fast, so I now understand why this topic deserves the attention of the chowhound scientists and historians.
The Brocato's cuban toast was delish: just the right browned butter taste on nice flat flaky cuban bread.
The Brocato's pork sandwich (pressed) was a winner too. It was prepared like a Cubano but skipping the ham (and salame, alas). It was meaty and in a way, I rather like focusing on the roast pork instead of mixing all the meats like a Cuban.
Also for a visitor, Brocato's was a big win because it's such a local place. Seemed like all the other customers knew all the names of everyone in the kitchen. 5th generation locals coming in and saying "i hope you have the potato salad today, Bob". I really enjoyed getting this lead to a bit of local vibe.
OK so while on sandwiches, on a different day I swung by La Teresita on Columbus for a takeout Cuban sandwich. Fun place to visit too, for the local flair. I liked the bread and the quality of the sandwich, but really there was too much cooked ham compared to the other ingredients to be my ideal sandwich. I do not have any authority on whether they are authentic or otherwise, but for me, too much of one kind of meat. Nice salame and pork though.
OK so on to Bern's steakhouse. For a visitor (and by the way a solo female diner) this was a good choice. The decor speaks for itself and was fun for me. Service was attentive-- steakhouse old boy formal in style-- but felt comfortable too. Ordered the delmonico 8oz with the default sides, and went for the gorgonzola fondue sauce on the side. Now, that sauce doesn't go with that steak, but I slathered it on the veggies and let me tell you it was fab. It was exactly what my Italian husband calls Fonduta, except done with gorgonzola instead of fontina. Man that is so good and you can practically eat it straight with a spoon. The steak was nice, the rest of the accompaniaments okay.
I really have to remark on this feature of Bern's service, and please reply-post with your thoughts. So the bill comes out with a 12% service charge included. Given the credit card slip, there is room to add a tip. I pulled my jovial and attentive server aside and asked for clarification on the service charge: is that your tip? He said that no, that charge is because the restaurant does not pay any wages. Hence this charge. (ok? are you with me ?) So I said, what do people customarily do for the tip considering this charge? He said, well they do all kinds of things. Like what? He got huffy and said, look I'm not going to tell you what to do. Well fine, that was the end of his jovial attentiveness. Nonetheless I added a 17% tip. But excuse me, why am I paying his wages and his tip? What is the custom here and is this not outrageous restaurant policy in your view? Anyway, an unwanted sour note on my splurge dinner. The total came to $60, mineral water and no wine.
OK one last note on this long post. I checked out Clearwater Beach on Saturday before my flight home. Loved it and found Frenchy's beach bar. It was fun, being St Paddy's day. Great place for a hang. I wound up making friends and had tastes of the stone crab claws and the oysters. Neither were phenomenal but both were fresh and clean, and a pleasure on the beach with a brew. And a great value!
Cheers Tampa!

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  1. Bern's is way overrated. It's a place to drop alot of cash and then try to impress your friends. I went to Berns!!! Don't bother.

    Marc in Tampa

    1. I have been going to Bern's for more than 35 years. It was and remains great. Some people just don;'t like prime dry aged beef. Service is fine. Winelist tops. As for the service charge, I usually add to bring it up to 20% and also tip the sommelier.

      1. Eh, I can take or leave Bern's (BUT I do love the dessert room and Manny, the piano player.) I feel for $60 you got out fine without alcohol. Honestly, I have never even noticed the 12% charge. I never knew they did this and I haven't heard of any other establishments in the area doing it. I find the decor a bit gaudy and the service overrated. If I go there, I usually eat at the bar. I find the bartenders more interesting than listening to the conversations the servers are trained to have day in and day out. I like the steaks better at Charley's. Sorry for the negative aspect of your experience.

        Frenchy's can be really fun. That's great you happened upon it on Saint Patrick's Day! Not gourmet food by any means, but fresh and it's nice being on the beach!

        12 Replies
        1. re: HeatherFL

          I've never noticed it before either and we were just there for my bday on 3/9. I wonder if they did it because she was a tourist.

          1. re: rhnault

            No, there has always been a service fee as long as I recall. Tip as you normally would but include the 12% that has already been added. So if you normally tip 20-25% for good service, then add an additional 8-13%. But, that is just what I would do.

            1. re: Little T.

              "He said that no, that charge is because the restaurant does not pay any wages."
              That is a little white lie, as they say. The rule is: minimum wage for "regular" folks is $6.67/hour, but for "tipped employees" the minimum is $3.65/hour. I know that is next to nothing, but they certainly get some wages (and probably benefits). So his little white lie caused you to overtip. Not nice!

              http://www.floridajobs.org/resources/...

              PS Did you take the kitchen tour? Great fun.

          2. re: HeatherFL

            Dessert room, port and dessert wines are tops. I wouldn't miss it.
            I've had far superior prime dry aged beef in many places. It's hype!

            1. re: markatz

              It's an institution...a true FLA Landmark.

              1. re: netmover

                Absolutely, it is a major part of Tampa history. Still I would stick to the dessert and dessert wines.

                MK

                1. re: markatz

                  Agree with your, Mark. It is a major part of Tampa history, but better steaks can definitely be found elsewhere. BUT the dessert room can't be beat!

                  1. re: HeatherFL

                    Nor can the wine list.

                    1. re: Wineman

                      True!

                      1. re: HeatherFL

                        I last ate in Bern's about a year ago with six friends, all of whom are foodies, most of us had been there before. It was the worst, most overpriced dining experience of my life. Nothing was cooked properly, the service was AWFUL. Like, twenty minutes to deliver cocktails, over an hour from ordering until the first food. Bern's is way past its prime. It is toally living on reputation.

                        1. re: phneale

                          It seems there are a lot with that opinion lately. I had been planning a big get together their in November with about 15 people but it seems like I am going to have to make other arrangements. Too bad as I have fond memories of Bern's!

                          1. re: theflytyr

                            I think that Bern's has consistently the best steaks I have ever eaten. The dessert room offerings are superb, and I love the showmanship of the kitchen and wine cellar tours. You should not miss the Bananas Foster, every bit the equal of Brennan's in New Orleans.

                            I think that the tipping arrangment is weird, but--hey--I just go with the flow. If they want to charge me 12% up front, I just tip an additional 8%, leaving them with a 20% tip in total. I assumed that they did it to avoid having waiters get "stiffed" by some unscrupulous customers. I also assumed that because of the high quality of the service there, the waiters are assigned fewer tables, so getting stiffed would be particularly disasterous for them.

                            On the other hand, that "they don't pay me any salary at all," is obviously bogus. The Florida Wage and Hour people would never permit it.

                            I am sorry that the waiter got huffy with a foreign visitor. Brits arer such nice people! I hope that you come to Tampa again and thanks for the review of our food.