Lunchtime. Nearly every table filled in a warren of small dining rooms, servers in starched white shirts and bow ties gliding smoothly under the shadows cast by huge oval restaurant trays. They set up tray stands and slide each white plate off with certitude about its recipient. If you order a steak, there is a steak knife. If you have soup, a soup spoon. If you are drinking iced tea, it will be refilled. And at meal's end, if you want to take something home, it will be removed from the table and packed discreetly for you into a to-go container.
What I have just described is the service at Bascom's Chop House Steaks & Fresh Seafood. Servers know the menu, they have memorized the specials. If you are wearing dark trousers, you will receive a black napkin, not white. In essence, service here partially explains why this longtimer is still going strong after a dozen years. It's no surprise that Bascom's caters foremost to business folks during the week, those from Raymond James and other nearby office buildings. Private dining rooms and banquet space provide an extra draw, but I suspect it's the steady solicitousness of the service staff that exerts special magnetism.
Of course, there's also the food. Bascom's was launched in 2002 as a companion restaurant to Fred Bullard, Jr.'s chain of Durango Steakhouses. The aim was to be more upscale, a place that would vie for customers with nearby Cafe Ponte with a menu of certified angus beef, wet-aged for a minimum of 28 days, plus dayboat seafood. It's traditional steak house fare, with appetizers of shrimp cocktail and oysters Rockefeller, sides of creamed spinach and au gratin potatoes, and steak-toppers such as Bearnaise sauce or au poivre.
In dining rooms of lustrous wooden wainscoting and gilded picture frames, accordion drapes and wide plantation shutters, tables are kitted out with $150 bottles of cabernet sauvignon with table tents talking up its charms. Now that's a serious impulse buy. But it sets the tone. What goes better with a pricey cab than a major steak, the best of which is the bone-in rib eye ($33.95)? Charry exterior, rich marbling of fat, intensely meaty flavor imparted by the bone — it's a near perfect steak, especially with a sultry peppercorn sauce pooled atop its crusty surface.
The 16-ounce veal chop ($29.95) is every bit as savory and satisfying, the milk-fed veal tender but still robustly flavorful. Preceded by a crab cocktail ($13.50) of huge snowy lumps crowding a martini glass, paired with a tangy-rich remoulade, it's the kind of business meal that surely greases the wheels of commerce.
The wine list follows suit, with a deep and wide array of important reds (like the ZD Abacus third bottling for, gulp, $450, which actually isn't far off retail price for this "solera style" multiple vintage blend) but plenty of appealing bottlings in the $40 range. And the mixologists produce some exemplary martinis and mixed drinks, like a summer-friendly cucumber Collins ($10).
To me, the weakest links at Bascom's are the desserts, which seem pedestrian and a little 1983 (key lime pie, cheesecake, flourless chocolate cake that reads like a slab o' fudge), all plates Jackson Pollock-ed with berry coulis and pouffed with whipped cream. Also, I'd love to see more verve on the fish entrees. One night's presentation of fresh grouper ($26.95) wasn't well served by its wan topping of sauteed peppers, onions and tomatoes. With a little more olive/caper/anchovy/garlic/herbs punch, it could be a zesty and contemporary approximation of puttanesca.
It's been a dozen years since the Times reviewed Bascom's. In that time it has deservedly amassed a devoted customer base on the strength of its exceptional service and steaks. There are nods to current trends (you'll find wagu on the menu now), but part of its strength may be its resistance to being trendy, choosing instead to hew closely to the example of the country's fabled chop houses.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.