Epicurean: fondofluxuryorindulgenceinsensualpleasures;having luxurioustastesorhabits,especiallyineatinganddrinking; devoted tosensualpleasures,espfoodanddrink. Synonyms: gourmet,luxury,lavish,deluxe,rich. Get ready to awaken your senses and indulge your soul as I share with you my two night gourmet adventure in Tampa. In this blog post, I will be covering our stay at the fabulous Epicurean Hotel. In part two, I will share with you our discoveries as we ventured out to check out the Tampa culinary scene.
A quote I found on the Epicurean Hotel’s website sums up their philosophy quite nicely: “Sometimes, to make something great, you have to start from scratch. We’re crafting a foodie’s paradise. A wine lover’s dream. A place for connoisseurs of life to come and indulge their appetite. Because there is no greater homage to life than to indulge in and explore all the flavors that it has to offer.”
Extending the legacy of world renowned Bern’s Steak House through a meticulous focus on food and wine, The Epicurean, Tampa’s only AAA*, Four Diamond hotel, developed in collaboration with Mainsail Lodging & Development and the legendary Bern’s Steak House, was the first newly constructed hotel property in the United States to join the prestigious Autograph Collection® of Marriott International, Inc. Located in the trendy historic Hyde Park District, (also referred to as SoHo, short for South of Howard St.) just minutes from Downtown Tampa, the 137 room Epicurean Hotel is home to a 40 seat stadium style state-of-the-art culinary classroom known as the Epicurean Theatre. Drawing interest from enthusiasts in the areas of food, wine, art and culture, the theatre brings together dedicated experts, eager novices and everyone in between in the spirit of teaching and learning from one another. Unfortunately there were no classes scheduled during our visit, but we were very excited to peak inside and hopefully we will have the opportunity to experience one in the future.
The developers of the hotel have claimed that they weren’t interested in creating a cookie cutter regular hotel. Instead, they were interested in something that would be more unique and that would match up to their boutique nature. The hotel’s relationship with Berns has played a significant role in that. According to Tom Haines, Epicurean Hotel’s GM, it is his job to “operationalize the Bern’s dream. To expose people to things they normally wouldn’t be exposed to and to broaden their horizons.” Dining is a true gastronomic experience at the Epicurean. Under the direction of James Beard Best Chef: South Semi Finalist (2012, 2014), Executive Chef Chad Johnson, guests dining at Elevage will be delighted by the culinary masterpieces that leave the kitchen. Chef Chad is inspired by taking classic American and International dishes that people have loved their entire lives and then tweaking them a bit, elevating it (hence the name Elevage) so it’s the best thing they ever had.
*According to AAA, establishments that receive the AAA Four Diamond Award are upscale in all areas. The fundamental hallmarks at this level include an extensive array of amenities combined with a high degree of hospitality, service, and attention to detail.
Since discovering my inner foodie back in 2009, my life has revolved around all things food & wine. During our stay at the Epicurean Hotel, I discovered first hand all the nuances that went into making this hotel a Foodie’s Paradise. From the moment Shaina and I arrived, we were greeted warmly by Eric at our car. After gathering up our bags, Eric proceeded to take us directly to the elevator bypassing the front desk and the check-in process all together. What?!? Yes, that’s right. No waiting in any lines (not that there were any at the time we arrived anyway), but the concept is genius. (We were told later that 85% of guests experience this check in process). We’re already off to a good start. Once in the room, we picked Eric’s brain about places to visit in the area the following day. He was more than happy to share with us his suggestions and validated some of the ones we had already heard good things about. Eric was super sweet and very nice to us throughout our stay.
After getting settled into our room, and by settled I mean getting into that “relaxed, I’m on vacay state of mind” we had a few hours to chillax before meeting Tom Haines, the hotel’s GM for a tour of the property. Of course we immediately took notice of all the “food”centric details found throughout the room. Case in point, the pictures on the walls, the pillows on the beds, the 10′ butcher block table with built in ice bucket, gourmet pantry and 5 varietals of wine. Another feature of the room worth mentioning is that all the bathroom products (soaps, shampoo/conditioner and lotions) have a citrus/herb essence to it which I found to be very pleasant. The shower was super cool too with a luxurious rain shower head.
While on our tour with Tom, we learned some fun facts about the property and the culture there. Our tour started in the lobby and one of the first things worth pointing out is this impressive floor to ceiling wall behind the front desk created entirely from the lids of wine crates which came from Bern’s Steak House, located adjacent to the hotel. Marriott Rewards Members, by the way, receive a complimentary glass of wine at check in.
Cute old fashioned bicycles are showcased in the lobby and guests are invited to check them out at no charge and they even provide you with a map of the area. A ride along Bayshore Drive (the world’s largest continuous sidewalk, is a must. We were able to squeeze that in the morning of our departure and were so glad we did.)
Herbs can be found growing throughout the property; inside on the walls and outside in planter boxes. The fresh herbs are used both in the preparation of daily dishes (harvested every Tuesday and Friday) but also are incorporated into some of the herbal treatments used in Evangeline Spa. Speaking of the spa, there are 5 treatment rooms, each with a wine related theme and all visits to the spa include a complimentary glass of wine. massive cork wall behind the front desk. An impressive cork wall can be found here constructed from 20,000 corks that had been reserved from wines consumed at Bern’s.
Tom was proud to point out that the Epicurean Hotel “operates as a non-hotel hotel”, meaning they are breaking the mold by doing things a bit untraditional. For instance, gone are the standard uniforms for most positions that interact with guests. The check-in process that I mentioned earlier, was super efficient and totally unique. Thought went into every detail down to the luggage carts they selected. After searching high and low for elements that fit into their urban chic design, they decided upon reclaimed lumber and metal, rather than the standard brass carts found at every other hotel. Gone are the Do Not Disturb/Housekeeping signs, replaced with a door bell and green and red buttons. Guests are spared the morning ritual of a continuous round of knockings on the door followed by the words “housekeeping” resounding throughout the halls.
Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits Wine Shop, under the direction of Kevin Pelley, is the only world class wine shop located in a hotel lobby to date and has quite an extensive and impressive selection of wines. In addition to being a wine shop, they also serve as a special event venue for private wine dinners which can accommodate up to 30 guests. “Crush” Hour takes place in the wine shop every Friday from 6:30-8:30pm and is open to the public for a fee of $25.
Relax at Evangeline, a full service delectable spa where both your skin and palate are pampered with flavors of relaxation. Fresh fruit scrubs, buttery lotions and rich botanical oils are infused with herbs from their living wall to relieve stress and will leave you feeling invigorated. As you melt into a Signature Service or nourishing treatment, know that each ingredient has been carefully selected to awaken your senses and refresh your soul.
Planning a meeting or wedding? 5,200 square feet of flexible event space is available in their Grand Cru ballroom.
Our tour concluded at Chocolate Pi Patisserie which features a spectacular selection of sweet confections, making it nearly impossible to leave there without indulging!
At the Epicurean Hotel, it’s all about Eating & Drinking…with Pleasure.
Eat: At Elevage, they’re crafting dining experiences that speak to lovers of life’s great flavors. The way they see it – there’s no greater celebration of life than to indulge our most basic human need, and I for one, couldn’t agree more. They do it exceptionally well here.
Drink: The perfect cocktail or the right glass of wine can turn an ordinary evening into an unforgettable one. There are many options for imbibing here; you can order a drink pool side, at the lobby bar or head up to Edge, the hotel’s roof top bar; the perfect place to catch an innovative cocktail with a view to boot. You can also partake in any of the wines that have been selected and placed for you in your room.
So now that our tour was done, we bid Tom adieu and headed back to our room to get ready for our dinner. We decided to stay on property our first night and dine at Elevage, which turned out to be a good thing, since it began to rain as we headed down for our 7pm reservation. Fortunately for us, that was the only rain we saw the remainder of our trip. Shaina and I decided to mosey up to the bar before sitting down for dinner. Bartender Jack (donning a blue & white checkered shirt which we discovered was a highly favored choice of garb of men in Tampa) crafted up a Moscow Mule for me, which I am happy to report was served in the proper copper cup and was outstanding. Shaina ordered the Watermelon Pisco which of course I got to try and it was delicious as well. It was made with Kappa Pisco, House watermelon syrup and lime juice. Time to have a seat for the main attraction.
Our server Kylie and Restaurant Manager Joshua were very attentive and helpful in making recommendations to us. We decided to start off by sharing the Horiatiki Salad, made with watermelon, feta, cucumber, pickled onion, spicy greens and tossed with a cracked olive vinaigrette.
I spotted sauteed Fiddleheads on the menu and was so intrigued. Neither of us had ever heard of them. Turns out they are the furled fronds of a young fern that we were told were only available for a short window in the Spring. Ours were sauteed with garlic, shallot, chili flakes. They had the texture of a crunchy green bean with a slight bitterness that we both found to be irresistible. We devoured these.
Another side that we both really went crazy for was the smashed cauliflower made simply with farmhouse cheddar and breadcrumbs. The ingredients may be few, but what they do to transform them back there in the kitchen is what Elevage is all about- taking the familiar and elevating it to a whole new level. I think we are both still salivating over this dish.
For our entrees, Shaina chose Scallop a la Greque with artichokes, sunchokes, asparagus, licorice herbs and saffron vinaigrette. Of course I got a taste and the scallops were cooked perfectly and the flavors all came together very nicely. I ordered the Duck Paprikash with crispy duck confit, buttermilk dumplings, kale and spicy paprika cream. I loved every bite of the duck and the sauce complimented the dish perfectly.
Rounding the bend, we approach the final stretch of the evening…dessert. Decisions, decisions. The pecan brownie with ganache and salted caramel ice cream won out amongst some stiff competition. As Shaina so eloquently put it, “So fudgy, so chocolatey, so delicious.”
Our room overlooked Bern’s Steak House. I have been to Bern’s many many years ago but on this trip, we just did not have time. We did learn though that Bern’s has a farm about a half hour away. Also another fact which may be of interest to some of you, there’s a huge nondescript building next door to Bern’s. Turns out that’s their warehouse where they store well over 700,000 bottles of wines. There are 7,000 plus wines on the Bern’s wine list. They have earned the designation as having the largest and most extensive wine list in the country for a restaurant. Pretty impressive, I’d say.
I can’t thank the Epicurean team enough for hosting us and for their most gracious hospitality. We will be back. Maybe this summer for the Epic Chef Showdown to support Feeding America Tampa Bay. Friends, if you are interested in visiting the Epicurean Hotel, I would highly recommend that you do so. You will be glad you did!
The Epicurean Hotel is located at 1207 South Howard Avenue, Tampa, Florida 33606