By Gary Nager
So, the good news is that we’re getting a couple of new Mexican places in Tampa Palms and the perhaps even better news is that Ciccio’s is coming back to the area (see page 50), but the fact is that if you’re the type who, like me, prefers unique mom-and-pop restaurants, you have to take a drive to try places outside of our distribution areas.
So, here’s our newest quartet of restaurants located outside of New Tampa and Wesley Chapel for your consideration, one the most famous landmark restaurant in Tampa, one the first-ever Florida link in a small west coast-based chain and two totally different types of Latin restaurants.
Bern’s Steak House (1208 S. Howard Ave., Tampa; 251-2421)
Most residents of and visitors to the Tampa Bay area have at least heard of Bern’s, which became the most famous landmark restaurant in Tampa not long after Bern & Gert Laxer bought a much smaller building than what you see now on S. Howard Ave about 60 years ago. Gert retired after Bern passed away in 2002, but their son David has continued the delicious tradition started by his hard-working parents.
I’ve had people tell me they don’t like the steak at Bern’s as much as some other upper-level steakhouses, such as Charley’s, Dempsey’s, Ocean Prime, Capital Grille, The Palm, Ruth’s Chris or Fleming’s, but while I probably love Charley’s best of those other steak places, only Bern’s serves a true chateaubriand-style steak for multiple diners at the same table the way many of the New York City steakhouses I grew up on did. So, I will continue to find my way back to Bern’s for a steak that always is served at the perfect temperature inside while maintaining a well-spiced crispness on the outside. Yum.
And, unlike most of those other places, Bern’s includes delicious starters and side dishes with your meal, including an authentic French onion soup, Bern’s steak house salad, a nice baked potato, crisp onion rings and even a vegetable of the day from Bern’s private garden.
In addition to its reputation as one of Tampa’s best restaurants, Bern’s also is famous for having one of the largest — and most fairly priced — wine lists in the world and for its Harry Waugh Dessert Room, where your party can enjoy outrageous desserts, plus the greatest selection of after-dinner cordials, sherries, brandies and more.
Bern’s is still “da bomb.” I hope you’ll tell them we sent you when you make your reservation. For more info, visit BernsSteakhouse.com.
Monserrate (2311 W. Hillsborough Ave, Tampa; 878-2466)
Way at the other much more casual, but still delicious, end of the restaurant spectrum in Tampa and named for a majestic mountain near Bogota, Colombia, Monserrate is an adorably funky-looking little free-standing building in front of what used to be the local SweetBay Supermarket, just east of the corner of Hillsborough and Armenia Aves.
Monserrate features a mix of Latin American cuisines, from traditional Colombian “bandejas paisa” or country platters (with everything from steak, homemade sausages and crispy pork skin, to Mexican favorites like sizzling fajitas, quesadillas and the awesome “two-handed” burrito pictured here, which is uniquely, deliciously spiced and so big one person can’t (or at least shouldn’t) finish it. There’s even a popular (especially with me) Brazilian churrasco steak dish, excellent pollo asado (chicken) with a zesty garlic sauce and pork chops (chuletas). But, the whole red snapper is one of the most popular items among the regulars.
Another big hit among the locals is Monserrate’s mofongo, a Puerto Rican specialty, which combines mashed plantains, garlic, olive oil and pork or bacon, filled with everything from octopus, shrimp or crab, pork, chicken, beef or a combination
Monserrate is casual, fun and friendly. The waitresses are all gorgeous, sweet Latinas from different backgrounds, there’s always a soccer game playing on the flat-screen TVs and the selection of Latin American cervezas helps add to the authentic ambiance. For more info, visit MonserrateTampa.com.
Eddie V’s Prime Seafood (4400 W. Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa; 877-7290)
Although Eddie V’s is a small chain of (currently) nine restaurants, all eight of the mini-chain’s other locations are either in Texas, Arizona or California. So, for those of us who live in Tampa and have never been exposed to this very upscale, pricey, delicious new prime steakhouse and fresh seafood restaurant, it’s another opportunity to compare it with some of our area’s finest eateries — especially on the same street that also includes entrances to the International Plaza, two Brazilian chrysalidian steak houses as well as the array of upper-level Outback concepts, including Fleming’s and Roy’s.
Eddie V’s, which features a piano bar called the V Lounge, with live jazz and an ultra-premium bar, as well as a huge wine list, has an incredible selection of unique, fresh fish appetizers and entrées, premium hand-cut steaks and prices to match.
I’ve only been able to visit once so far for dinner, but I really enjoyed Eddie V’s unique take on yellowtail sashimi (photo), which is seasoned with cilantro and red pepper in a deliciously different ponzu sauce. Other seafood “raw bar” items include market oysters, jumbo shrimp cocktail with “atomic” horseradish and spicy mustard, a jumbo lump crabmeat cocktail and even a “shellfish tower” with a Maine lobster, shrimp, oysters and jumbo lump crab. Hot starters include “kung pao style” calamari, shrimp and pork pot sticker dumplings, jumbo lump crab cake, a truffled steak tartare and Maine lobster tacos. There’s also Maine lobster and shrimp bisque, wild mushroom and Fuji apple salads, crab and corn chowder and an heirloom tomato salad.
If you’re a fresh fish lover like me, it’ll be tough to not try at least one of Eddie V’s amazing-sounding fish entrées, from Louisiana redfish sautéed with fresh lump crab, meuniere style, north Atlantic lemon sole parmesan-crusted with a tomato and herb salad in lemon garlic butter and Florida grouper sautéed crisp with lemon, garlic and scallions or the Brown Butter, to jumbo gulf shrimp grilled “oreganata style” with fresh Jonah crab and two cold water lobster 8-oz. tails, broiled or steamed with drawn butter.
The premium steaks include two sizes of filet mignon, a bone-in ribeye and a 16-oz. New York strip grilled or au poivre. And, while the sides are extra, I also have to recommend Eddie V’s broccolini sauteed with lemon and fresh garlic and the twice-baked potato with bacon and chives.
Reservations are definitely required for Eddie V’s, although not for the V Lounge, which does serve the full menu. For easy online reservations and more info, visit EddieV.com.
Terra Sur Café (5358 W. Village Dr., Carrollwood; 269-2694)
The owners themselves call Terra Sur a “best-kept secret” that has been in the same location since it opened in an unassuming strip center in Carrollwood (off Ehrlich Rd.) in 2005.
Many of my Latin friends have told me that Peruvian cuisine is among the best and most celebrated in the world and after just two visits to Terra Sur Café, I can’t disagree with them.
First of all, you HAVE to start your meal with the best red snapper ceviche (ceviche de pescado) I have ever tasted. Although shrimp, octopus and squid ceviche appetizers also are available, try the pescado, which is fresh cuts of raw fish marinated in lime juice, spices, Aji Limo, and cilantro and topped with julienne red onions, garnished with Peruvian soft corn, toasted corn and sweet potatoes. The lemony dipping sauce is so delicious, I could drink it by itself.
The main courses I’ve sampled so far include a fresh red snapper filet topped with a tomato sauce, onions, tomatoes garlic and spices; the bistec a la Chorrillana, a grilled ribeye steak topped with a tomato sauce, onions and garlic; and my favorite to date, a melt-in-your-mouth tender lamb shank in a zesty red wine reduction (photo).
I am definitely going to try Terra Sur’s unique pasta dishes and I also can vouch for the incredibly light and refreshing mango cheesecake and the restaurant’s amazing wine (which includes several Argentinian Malbecs and Chilean Carmeñeres) and Latin cerveza lists.
Terra Sur Café is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. For reservations and more information, visit TerraSurCafé.com.
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