I've used that phrase myself a couple times by accident. But an accident that would be, because the hotel under construction on South Howard Avenue is far more than just a hotel across the street from the legendary Bern's Steak House.
So, as a service to you the reader, let me take a second to untangle this foodie family tree — and let me stretch the family metaphor a bit.
One parent (would it be the “Mother”? That's up to you.) is the Bern's Steak House Inc., and the Laxer family that built their restaurant on Howard Avenue into a destination known around the world. Long, long ago, the family looked at land across the street. David Laxer envisioned a hotel named the “Epicurean,” and Bern's paid bazillions to start construction on a lovely parking garage there, which proceeded right up until the real estate bubble burst with a “Pop!” And there the garage sat for a few years.
Then, much more recently, along came the other parent (would it be the “Father”? That's up to you.) in the form of Joe Collier, the Tampa-based developer of hotel properties. Laxer, Collier and other Tampa business honchos spearheaded a drive to resurrect the hotel dream, and they formulated a new plan.
Collier is president of Mainsail Lodging & Development that runs several long-term stay and apartment complexes around Florida and is a franchisee of Marriott, which recently built a resort on Scrub Island. Marriott has a substring of hotels under the “Autograph Collection” brand that look and feel like independent boutique hotels, but operate with all the benefits of a megahotel chain. That link led to the Epicurean becoming an “Autograph” site.
A slew of financial investors have jumped into the project, including the Laxers, Carl and Lyda Lindell, Bud Risser, Clint and Krista Maddox, Tyson Lykes, Rob and Sadie Pariseau, Brian Check and Dennis Slater.
Mainsail is driving the Epicurean bus in terms of a string of things. They'll hire and run the staff, hotel operations, restaurant, spa, rooftop bar, “Culinary Classroom,” and meeting and event space. A slew of other players have come in the mix: general contractor (Beck), architects (Urban Studio), interior design firm (Gettys), project management (Check Development) and financing (Synovus Bank).
So, you ask, “What will Bern's run?”
Bern's will lease and run the on-site pastry shop, wine shop, and have a “consulting” role with all restaurant and beverage service, and at some point the Bern's Fine Wine & Spirits store will move down the street into the Epicurean lobby. Bern's will also expand the annual WineFest with events at the Epicurean. And I can tell you from recent visits to the restaurant that the servers on site happily tell guests all about the hotel — if prompted.
A few of the particulars between the two parents of the Epicurean are still evolving, and on Monday the hotel will reveal names for the restaurant, bakery, spa and other spots.
For hotel guests, this arrangement brings perks. For one, the expectations for the food will be pretty high, and expect some nice arrangements between the hotel and the restaurant for deals, perhaps, though luxury brands tend to be allergic to anything smacking of “discount.” Secondly, guests of the hotel will benefit from the Marriott reservation system and can earn and use Marriott Reward points — something you wouldn't expect from a hotel run by a steak house. The hotel should open in mid-December, with a grand opening in January, but until then, here's some other retail, restaurant and trend news around town:
Mmmmm ... Waffle Taco!
Who doesn't wake up in the morning and want some Taco Bell for breakfast? Anyone? Anyone sober? Well, for those who do, I have good news. Taco Bell is rolling out more breakfast items, including — and this is not a joke — a Waffle Taco. It's a waffle, wrapped around a sausage, wrapped around some fried eggs. This is the love child of Denny's and Juevos Rancheros. Taco Bell is still rolling out breakfast to locations nationwide, so it's not everywhere yet, and the Waffle Taco is still in experimental testing at just three locations (none in Florida) but given the endless ingenuity Taco Bell displays with ingredients, you won't have to wait long before it shows up here.
Le Macaron moves
Where did the Le Macaron shop at International Plaza go? Not far. The French bakery that makes those pretty little cakes moved from a spot inside the mall to a quieter slot outside on Bay Street. Want to find it? Walk toward the mall down Bay Street, but turn right after Capital Grille. It's right there, and they still have the crunchy pastel Macarons. By the way, a “Macaron” (one “o”) is the crunchy pastry made of almond flour that looks like a French Oreo. A Macaroon (two “o”s) is the toasted pastry that's like a giant buttery Hershey's Kiss made of coconut flakes and happiness.
Bright House prep video
Bright House Networks is putting its foot further on the gas in covering preps sports, but this time streaming video. BHN will offer live and On Demand streaming video of Florida high school games, including a slew of finals games — where the video is available on iPhones, iPads and many Android devices. There's no extra charge for BHN subscribers, and the video works outside the home, too. Games include 60 regular season and 70 state finals games during the 2013-14 school year. Forty of them will be football, with another 20 games of volleyball, basketball and baseball.
More TV networks coming
Meanwhile, streaming TV shows on Amazon/Netflix/Hulu/Roku, etc., may be super cool, but there are also a slew of neat new “Networks” starting up too on actual cable TV channels. Simon Applebaum at MediaBizBlogers.com has a good rundown: FoxSports1 is starting up in August with weekend Nascar racing, UFC fight nights an other events. Al Jazeera America is taking over the spot once held by Current TV, with lots of new news shows, including several hosted by former CNN personalities. The Esquire Network is on tap, too. That's the former G4 channel, but instead of hot rods and video game shows, expect more shows about suits and style. Also on deck soon: A new music-oriented TV channel from Sean Combs called “Revolt,” and the gritty blood flick auteur Robert Rodriguez is backing a new channel called “El Ray.” Not all channels are available everywhere, so check their sites for local listings. Outpost Tap House opens
After several months in renovation, the Outpost Tap House + Tavern opened at 909 W. Kennedy Blvd. That's the site of the former Frankie's hot dog joint. The owners and the address are the same, but everything else is different. Where Frankie's had hot dogs, the Outpost has Prince Edward Island Oysters and gourmet burgers, and where Frankie's had a few beers, the Outpost has 40-plus beers on tap, including Goose Island Honkers and Stone Arrogant Bastard with an alcohol percentage of 7.2. There are also huge new TVs everywhere you look, and the bar is vastly expanded. Expect lots of events there timed with those at the University of Tampa next door, and expect more of the open-air parties in the front lot once the restaurant really gets up and going.