Like a restaurant waiter lifting the lid from an expensive entree, the creators of the Epicurean boutique hotel on Monday night revealed the culinary side of the food-themed resort now under construction on South Howard Avenue.
Executives from Bern's Steak House and Mainsail Lodging & Development broke ground on the hotel in October. After the Epicurean's completion in mid-December, it will join Marriott's Autograph Collection of luxury hotels.
Details about the 137-room hotel have been closely guarded among Bern's, Mainsail and Marriott insiders, with rare tours scheduled for investors and media. The information was part of a highly managed reveal Monday of the hotel's website (epicureanhotel.com), Twitter names (@EpicureanHotel, @elevagetampa and @edgetampa) and Facebook pages.
In an exclusive interview with The Tampa Tribune last week, Bern's owner David Laxer, Epicurean general manager Tom Haines, executive chef Chad Johnson and spirits director Dean Hurst revealed the hotel's elaborate culinary plans.
“The idea is to take well-done food and make it approachable,” Laxer said.
The hotel's signature restaurant on the first floor will be named Elevage, a term that relates to the stages of handcrafted wine production. Johnson, who will oversee the hotel's food operations as well those at his current restaurant up the street, SideBern's, plans to offer “old-school, classic dishes” with a modern twist in the 87-seat space.
“We're taking some of these dishes that have fallen out of favor or lost their cache and making them sexy again,” Johnson said.
Elevage will be the first Bern's restaurant to offer breakfast and lunch as well as dinner.
Johnson's breakfast menu, which still is in development, will offer such dishes as soft-scrambled duck eggs with duck confit, mushrooms and puff pastry, and lobster and bacon hash made with Yukon gold potatoes, crème fraiche and a fried egg. Breakfast entrees will average about $10.
Lunch entrees, which will average from $10 to $15, will be equally decadent, with foie gras bratwurst and a sandwich called “Duck, Duck, Goose” — a ground- duck burger stuffed with foie gras and goose confit and smothered in black currant ketchup.
Dinner entrees, which will average about $25, will follow Johnson's trademark use of game meat, including rabbit and dumplings with porcini mushrooms and sage. He also will incorporate fresh herbs and vegetables from a vertical growing wall being installed at the hotel by farmer Dave Smiles of Uriah's Urban Farms.
“The food is 'nostalgia-meets-nouveau,'” Johnson said. “I'm really excited about breakfast.”
In most hotels, the restaurant is designed as an afterthought, Johnson said. “This is a restaurant that just happens to have a world-class hotel attached to it,” he said.
Guests entering Elevage will pass through a hallway of wine, a nod to Bern's world-renown private collection. Those wines also will be for sale in the Bern's Fine Wine & Spirits shop, which will move to the hotel from its current location attached to SideBern's.
And although there will be a bar inside Elevage, the showpiece for beer, wine and spirits fans will be the 80-seat Edge Social Drinkery located on the hotel's rooftop.
In addition to offering small savory plates and cheese boards, the open-air Edge bar is expected to become a place for Elevage customers to go for an after-dinner drink as well as a night-spot for locals.
“There are no rules,” Hurst said. “Everything goes. It will be constantly changing. On the rooftop, you never know what you'll walk into.”
The hotel plans to offer an as yet undisclosed signature cocktail, but Hurst did say he would be making such ingredients as barrel-aged simple syrups. The beverage program also will extend to guests' rooms, where a minibar will be stocked along with snacks created by Johnson's staff. Guests will be able to download a smart-phone app to order room service or takeout food directly from the Elevage kitchen.
“This will not be your usual minibar,” Haines said. “This will not be dumbed-down.”
In the north end of the building, Bern's pastry chef Kim Yelvington will operate the French-style patisserie Chocolate Pi, which was the name of her South Tampa bakery before she joined Bern's.
Mirroring Johnson's plan to tweak classic comfort food, Yelvington's bakery will play with childhood desserts in addition to serving afternoon tea, handmade sodas and an extended line of house-made chocolates and macarons.
Adjacent to Chocolate Pi will be Evangeline, a full-service spa that will use food ingredients such as chocolate facials in several of its treatments. The name comes from a character in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A bust of the character can be seen in the atrium of Bern's Steak House as well as in its logo.
An extensive number of seminars and tastings already are being scheduled for the hotel's 1,000-square-foot, 32-seat Epicurean Theater, Haines said. The goal is to create a program that will entice guests staying at the Epicurean as well as lure local customers. The theater is expected to be incorporated into Bern's annual Winefest event in the spring.
The Elevage kitchen also will cater functions for the hotel's 1,800-square-foot Gran Cru Ballroom. Again, Johnson said he plans a menu that will elevate banquet dining, with all food made the day of the event, not prepped and frozen weeks in advance.
“We're going to cook and season the food properly, the way it should be done,” he said. “This will be modern food, not your standard banquet salmon.”