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Where can you get the best steak in Tampa Bay?

At Bern’s Steak House, beef is tagged with a date and carefully dry-aged for up to eight weeks before hitting the grill.

John Pendygraft/tbt*

At Bern’s Steak House, beef is tagged with a date and carefully dry-aged for up to eight weeks before hitting the grill.

An average New York strip at Bern's Steak House passes through about seven sets of hands before it hits your table.

That does not include the Midwestern ranchers who raised the cow the steak came from, nor the truckers who deliver meat to the steakhouse twice a week, nor David Laxer, son of Bern himself, who buys the restaurant's beef.

Nope. The people who wrangle your steak from truck to table include a roster of unpackers, meat cutters, grill cooks, loaders and servers. They slice, they saw, they season, they sear, all with a sense of gravity befitting a steakhouse that opened when Ike was commander in chief.

"Bern's isn't a place to come and wolf down a meal in a half an hour," said chef de cuisine Andy Minney. "It's an event. It's an experience."

Hyperbole? Hardly. Prime steak, expertly prepared, just has that effect on people. It's the Clooney of entrees, a meal that makes men of boys and moguls of men. And there's no shortage of options for world-class steak in Tampa Bay.

In fact, some discerning carnivores may tell you Bern's isn't even the best steakhouse on the local meat-eater's circuit. That honor might go Malio's Prime or Salt Rock Grill, or one of Tampa's top-notch chains like Shula's or the Palm.

"Tampa is a great city for steakhouses," said 313-pound Tampa Bay Buccaneers lineman Davin Joseph, a man who knows a thing or two about good meals. "You've got your Ruth's Chris, you have your Capital Grille, you have your places that you'll see anywhere in any city. And then you have your local spots that really can compete with the chains — your Bern's, your Grille One Sixteen — places that you don't hear about, but that have really, really good food."

Once a week, on Thursdays, Joseph and his fellow man-mountains on the Bucs' offensive line go out for steak en masse. They call it the O-Line Dinner — 14 linemen, tight ends and quarterbacks wolfing down porterhouses left and right. The bill routinely reaches four digits.

"It's the last hard, intense practice of the week," adds offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood, "so it's sort of like a celebration. We talk about the upcoming game, but we don't really talk about the upcoming game. We don't really talk about football that much. We're pretty good friends, so it's almost like a social club."

The subterranean lighting, knives the size of machetes, menus bound like first-edition Gutenbergs — steakhouses are intimidatingly masculine domains. Ripping into a bulging Delmonico may be a nice test of one's manhood — in the words of Jerry Seinfeld, women don't respect salad eaters — but it's also a symbol of status. Says Minney: "Not all of our regulars have their own jets, but some people fly in, have dinner, and fly back out."

These days, you might think paying $70 for a 25-ounce porterhouse at Bern's is a joke (see Page 46). But as a luxury, as a once-in-a-blue-moon treat, the prime dry-aged steak has no culinary match. Which is why, when those seven Bern's employees work their magic on your meal, and a medium-rare filet comes to rest on the white tablecloth before you, all that money you're spending feels worth it.

"People won't stop having birthdays," Minney says. "People won't stop having anniversaries. There are still business deals being made that people want to sit down and celebrate over. ... I keep my pantry stocked a little more at home than I used to. But if I have friends in town, or if I have something I want to go out for, like my birthday, I'm going to come to Bern's."

And he'll be coming there for steak.

Contributing: Laura Reiley

The honor roll

It's no small task, picking the best steakhouses in a solid steak town like Tampa. (And we do mean Tampa; most of the area's top-dollar steakhouses are in Hillsborough.) But we're confident recommending the meat at any of these 10 restaurants (as well as the five on the next page).

Boizao If it's Brazilian beef you're after, this churascurria near International Plaza serves it up by the mountain. Picanha, the succulent rump cut that could be credited for the Brazilian steakhouse surge, is the star here. 4606 W Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa; (813) 286-7100, boizao.com.

The Capital Grille This swanky chain restaurant at International Plaza offers top-notch service and a steak menu that's more inventive than many (see: the dry-aged sirloin crusted with a Kona coffee rub). 2223 N West Shore Blvd., Tampa; (813) 830-9433, capitalgrille.com.

Gallagher's Steak House This famed New York steak joint, a former speakeasy that claims to have invented the New York strip, has five restaurants around the country. One is at Channelside. The flavorful filets are a good bet; ask for a seat near the window so you'll have a view of the water. 615 Channelside Drive, No. 203, Tampa; (813) 229-8000,

gallagherstampa.com.

Malio's Prime Malio Iavarone's old joint on Dale Mabry was a favorite of politicos and sports honchos, including George Steinbrenner. The new Malio's Prime, in Tampa's Beer Can Building, serves no-nonsense steaks in a swinging riverfront setting. 400 N Ashley Drive, Tampa; (813) 223-7746, maliosprime.com.

The Palm Caricatures on the wall, and prime strips and sirloins — that's what you'll get at this high-end chain. Plus, during the week, you can get a business lunch special featuring prime aged sirloin or filet mignon tenderloin au poivre for just $15.95. 205 Westshore Plaza, Tampa; (813) 849-7256, thepalm.com.

Ruth's Chris Steak House Some might call this the finest steak chain in America. Try the ridiculously marbled, ridiculously flavorful, ridiculously sizzling ribeye, and you might be among them. 1700 N West Shore Blvd., Tampa; (813) 282-1118, ruthschris.com.

Salt Rock Grill The best steak on the Gulf beaches? Could be. Grilled on a 1,200-degree citrus- and oak-wood fire pit, the dry-aged cuts might be enough to sway you from ordering the seafood you came for. The views of the Intracoastal Waterway are great, too. 19325 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores; (727) 593-7625, saltrockgrill.com.

Shula's Steak House The top-shelf Shula's chain is a little gimmicky — see the "48 oz. Club," honoring the more than 33,000 patrons who have finished an entire 48-ounce porterhouse — but they don't skimp on the portions or the quality. Still, we find it curious no one at Shula's thought to make use of the phrase "perfect seasoning." 4860 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 286-4366, donshula.com.

Spoto's Steak Joint II Bob Spoto sold his original Steak Joint years ago, but this Dunedin outpost, which opened in 2000, still thrives. Sure, the beef is great, but what really draws the eye are the wild game specialties: antelope, ostrich, kangaroo, rattlesnake, python, even lion. The menu changes, so be prepared for anything. 1280 Main St., Dunedin; (727) 734-0008, spotossteakjoint2.com.

Texas Cattle Company Owned by the same partners behind Charley's Steak House and a few other restaurants, Texas Cattle Company is a slightly more down-home option for those looking for good eats. A big bonus: On your birthday, you get a free 16- to 18-ounce cowgirl T-bone. Can't beat that with a cattle prod. 2600 34th St., St. Petersburg; (727)527-3335, texascattlecompany.net.

Still hungry? Head to food.tampabay.com to search our restaurant database for more great local steakhouses.

Where can you get the best steak in Tampa Bay? 12/11/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 15, 2008 2:42pm]

    

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