Delicious. Delectable. Divine. There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe the spectacular desserts created in the Harry Waugh Dessert Room at Bern’s Steak House. With its cozy atmosphere and superior service, it is no wonder that hundreds of people from all over the area gather there to celebrate special occasions throughout the week.
You don’t even need a particular reason to treat yourself to a visit to the Dessert Room – hanging out with friends or co-workers is reason enough. Members of the TAMPA Magazine staff met up one evening to share their favorite desserts and after-dinner drinks and learn a little bit more about the legendary Harry Waugh Dessert Room.
In the late 1970s Bern Laxer, founder of Bern’s Steak House, returned from a European vacation with more than just souvenirs and memories. While dining at his friend Harry Waugh’s home in London, Laxer was impressed with his formal drawing room and the idea of a place to retire for after-dinner drinks and desserts. He enjoyed it so much that he wanted to share the experience with guests of his restaurant back home.
Like most buildings and homes in South Tampa, Bern’s Steak House did not have any room to expand on the ground, so Laxer built up – adding a second floor. When he was finished, the Harry Waugh Dessert Room was larger than all the main dining rooms combined. Climb the opulent stairs and you’ll find 48 private booths, a piano lounge area, a pastry kitchen and storage for an extensive selection of after-dinner wines, scotches, whiskies, cognacs, ports and madeira wines, as well as a cage of rare liquors and the exclusive Bern’s Blends Whiskies.
The dessert room does not take reservations, so it is recommended that you get there early. If you are eating at Bern’s, your server will ensure your after-dinner table is ready for you. About 90 percent of the diners at Bern’s end their evening with one of the 40 different desserts or 14 homemade ice creams they serve. On an average weekend night, executive pastry chef Kim Yelvington and her team of 20 pastry chefs make more than 1,000 desserts, many of which could pass for works of art.
Beautiful to behold and divine to taste, many of the dessert recipes were developed by Laxer himself after much trial and error. Legend has it that he spent seven years developing the recipe for the macadamia nut ice cream and experimented with 300 different recipes before finding the perfect combination of ingredients. Classics like the banana cheese pie and Cheesecake Gert have been around before the Dessert Room was even a concept, while newer creative concoctions combine innovative twists to create unique favorites like the strawberry Key lime tart and the Granny Smith apple pie with a caramelized apple filling.
If more than 40 pages of desserts and drinks seems a bit daunting, don’t worry – the servers in the Dessert Room are certified dessert and whiskey experts. “Everyone goes through five weeks of training and has to work for a period of time at every position in the Dessert Room,” said Dessert Room manager Karli Geer. By the end of their training the servers can expertly flambé your bananas Foster or baked Alaska on one of the five custom built flambé carts or guide you to the perfect after-dinner drink to accompany your sweet treat.
In addition to being pampered by the wait staff while indulging your sweet tooth, you can listen to your favorite music performed by the talented nightly pianist. Private booths have their own sound systems so diners can hear him tickle the ivories — you can even use the booth’s private phone to call in your request. “He plays by ear,” said Geer. “Even if he doesn’t know a song, he can listen to it and then play it.” The most requested songs each night? Anything by Billy Joel, Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Your favorite song played just for you while receiving five-star treatment and enjoying a luscious last course and one more toast to the evening? It doesn’t get any sweeter than that.
CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER TRUFFLE
You’ll find layers of brownie, peanut butter crisp and two types of mousse inside the dark chocolate ganache layer of this peanut butter lover’s dream.
BERN’S BAKED ALASKA
A decadent combination of vanilla lush cake, macadamia and Italian meringue flambéed tableside. A blend of premium liqueurs toasts the dessert on the outside while it stays cool and creamy on the inside.
CHOCOLATE CHEESE PIE
The chocolate cream cheese mousse and chocolate cookie crumb crust is served with a rich chocolate sauce, fresh whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
You’ll definitely feel like a king while eating the rich and moist carrot cake featured in this dessert alongside macadamia nut ice cream and hot fudge.
TRIO OF LIQUID CENTER CAKES
A variation on the beloved volcano chocolate cake, this trio of chocolate cakes is filled with warm centers of dulce de leche, hazelnut, and white chocolate and paired with small scoops of homemade banana caramel, Caramelia crunch, and vanilla bean ice creams.
SAUTERNE DESSERT WINE
One of the world’s classic dessert wines, Bern’s has more than a dozen sauternes for every taste (and dessert).
CAPPUCCINO BERN’S STEAK HOUSE
It takes 10 weeks to make this cup of java. A blend of finely ground, freshly roasted coffee beans are soaked in Kahlua and other flavored liqueurs for 70 days before they are ready to be brewed into the tastiest cappuccino in Tampa.
Coffee beans are roasted daily at Bern’s and brewed with the minimum amount of water for maximum flavor.