The Long-Bone Cowboy Ribeye at Council Oak
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, 5223 N Orient Road, Tampa. (813) 627-7628, seminolehardrocktampa.com.
Should you find yourself flush with cash after a few hours of blackjack and slots at the Hard Rock, do yourself a favor: Swagger into the dining room at Council Oak and imagine you're on the Vegas Strip. Or kick back in the lounge and embrace the smokier, cheesier, Fremont Street vibe. And order yourself a 24-ounce Long-Bone Cowboy Ribeye ($47), smothered with blue cheese, bearnaise sauce or 6 more ounces of crab. Don't forget to have your initials or another word — your winnings, perhaps? — carved into the 12-inch boomerang of a bone. By the time your night's over, you'll feel like a rock star, a gambler and a cowboy, all rolled into one. Bet on it.
The Delmonico at Bern's Steak House
1208 S Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 251-2421. bernssteakhouse.com.
You can't go wrong with most steaks at Bern's, including the strip sirloin pictured below. But ask chef de cuisine Andy Minney for a recommendation, and he says: "I, myself, prefer a great Delmonico, if I want a really robust, meaty, beefy steak, because there's so much marbling inside the lean of the meat. Plus there's a little bit of exterior fat on the Delmonico, and that chars up and adds a little bit of flavor to it." The Delmonico (prices range from $34.04 to $74.04, depending on the size) is a ribeye seasoned with a blend of butter, black pepper and salt, and grilled on natural oak charcoal. Cooks spear each steak with a colored toothpick denoting how you ordered it — white is rare, red is medium, blue is well-done, with many variations in between "It's very visual, very tactile," Minney says. "Instead of having to waste time looking back and reading over every ticket, they can focus on the steaks." Let one of the restaurant's expert sommeliers offer a recommendation from Bern's legendary wine cellar.
The New York Strip at Grille One Sixteen
1505 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. (813) 265-0116.
Few restaurants in Florida cater to steakophiles searching for grass-fed beef, which is said to have a deeper, richer taste than the much more common corn-fed variety. (The gastronomically adventurous may drive to the Polo Grill in Lakewood Ranch, where chef Tommy Klauber offers a grass-fed hamburger.) In Tampa Bay, the closest you'll find are the steaks at the stunningly chic Grille One Sixteen in Carrollwood (yes, Carrollwood). The menu proudly touts the meat as 100 percent organic; chef James Maita says his Black Angus steaks are DNA-tested, free of hormones and raised in a natural environment. "They're allowed to roam and grow on their own terms, versus being rushed to (fully) grown and all that stuff." It doesn't hurt that the 14-ounce prime New York strip ($37) is deliciously smoky, with an almost charlike finish. Pair it with one of Maita's nine sauces, butters and toppings, and it practically explodes off the fork. Maita recommends the 116 Signature sauce, a demiglace reduction. We went for the gusto and got the marvelous gorgonzola butter, and our tongues are still a little giddy.
The Petite Filet at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse
4322 W Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa. (813) 874-9463, flemingssteakhouse.com.
Why Fleming's, and not one of the the other high-end steak chains in Tampa? For one, it's local ... sort of. Fleming's, which has some 60 locations nationwide, is owned by OSI Restaurant Partners, the Tampa conglomerate behind Outback, Bonefish Grill, Roy's and Carrabba's. Two, it's not as daunting as some of the other dimly lit man-caves (Shula's, Ruth's Chris, Capital Grille, the Palm and soon, Mitchell's Ocean Prime) in Tampa's Westshore district; you're as likely to see a ladies' night out at the bar as you are a table of back-slapping businessmen. And three: It's just really, really good. At 8 ounces, the petite filet mignon (the regular filet is 12 ounces) is a good example of why Fleming's is worth a trip: It's not ostentatious or intimidating, and after you finish, you don't feel like the cow that supplied it. The Bucs' Jeremy Trueblood, a filet man, says each steak he's had at Fleming's has been top-notch. "If that's not enough," he says, "I get two."
The Porterhouse at Charley's Steakhouse
4444 W Cypress St., Tampa. (813) 353-9706. charleyssteakhouse.com.
Can't decide between the filet mignon or the strip? The porterhouse is for you. At Charley's Steakhouse, the 32-ounce porterhouse ($38.95) offers a sampling of both cuts, from the velvety, almost gelatinous filet, to the intensely flavor-filled strip. That said, we can't resist daring you to plunk down $119.95 for the Charley's Ultimate Surf and Turf: A 11D4 pound lobster tail served with a 50-oz. porterhouse. Sure, the menu says it's for two, but imagine the legendary stories the wait staff will tell about you when you leave. The (slightly) more reasonable 20-ounce filet is a monster. Just the sight of a server trotting out these cellophane-wrapped behemoths before your meal is enough to make your heart skip. (Which, now that we think of it, may not be a good sign. Best to stick with the 32-ouncer.)