Monday, April 23, 2018
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Can you eat at Bern's Steakhouse for $5? Sort of

This wouldn't be just a potato.

It couldn't be. It was a potato, a carb nugget, a brown spud like any other. But! It was a potato from Bern's Steakhouse, the most famous and well-regarded restaurant in Tampa. Aside from a small order of onion rings, the baked potato is the only thing on the menu you can buy for less than $5 — $4.95 to be exact.

To get your tater twice-baked or mashed is $5.95. Sliced and fried is $7.95, Garlicked or hashed is $8.95. And for the truffle-fried potato? Forget it, pauper. That's $10.95.

If you have enough money to buy a meal, the baked potato comes free inside the gluttonous affair of soup and salad and bovine and butter. But if you just have $5, you better savor every bite. You're ready.

Your server, who has trained in Bern's expertise for years and donned a full suit for the occasion, asks for your potato preferences.

"Sweet butter, sour cream, crumbled bacon or chives?" he says.

"Yes," you reply. All. You must get it all.

He carries the deconstructed potato on a large tray to your tableside, punctures it in several strategic places, then splits it open with his hands like a ninja, dispersing it evenly onto a silver platter that's perfectly potato-sized. Then, in a move that could be called controversial in some baked-potato circles, he doesn't just dollop on the sweet butter. He mixes it as one would whisk an egg, fluffing the potato's soft insides until the whole thing is silky smooth.

He spreads the tangy sour cream atop the entire surface, and then like Monet and the Water Lilies before him, sprinkles a balanced arrangement of crumbled bacon and finely chopped chives so fresh they twinkle like green glitter.

At this point, your brain might be fighting for logic. It's a potato. It's cheap. You could have stayed home and made your own for a sliver of the price. But you wouldn't have the pleasure of lingering inside Bern's mysterious Haunted Mansion-style rooms, of chatting with someone who knows from memory that the pinot noir selection starts on Page 47 of the wine list. You're paying $4.95 for a potato, yes. But you're also paying for experience.

By now you've built the potato up so high in your head, it is going to taste spectacular no matter what. And it does. You finish it like a hungry cow, skin and all.

You should leave a tip, cheapskate.

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