The big taste and big heart of Charley’s Steakhouse (PHOTOS)

Charley’s Steakhouse’s menu is filled with bold signature cocktails, classic steakhouse favorites and items you can’t find anyplace else. This is an experience defined by the word dedication.

Charley’s team is dedicated to presenting the highest quality food, skillfully prepared to let flavor take center stage. It also is dedicated to the details of service, and presentation, so each customer feels special. And finally, the team is dedicated to the Tampa Bay community, offering customers a chance to participate in a charity program that raises millions of dollars for local nonprofit organizations.

When dinner is over you feel satisfied by a great experience and the chance to make life better for everyone in Tampa Bay.

Sophisticated, Clubby and T-Bone Shaped

The bar scene at Charley’s is sophisticated and clubby, with a T-bone-shaped bar and an inventive menu of signature cocktails. For example, the Watermelon Celebration delivers refreshment in a glass and is perfect for hot summer nights. Created by a mixologist in Celebration, this cocktail combines cucumber-infused Absolut Citron vodka, St. Germain liqueur and freshly muddled watermelon, with a housemade sour mix.  It’s light and sweet, with a kiss of tartness to clear the palate.

The drink menu overflows with citrus, berry, flowers and fruit but the Zaddies at the bar will always give a nod to the smoked cocktails, like the Cherrywood Smoked Old Fashioned. This cocktail was created right here in Tampa and starts with a custom-made Redemption bourbon. The spirit is smoked in-house before meeting a dash of Angostura Bitters and garnished with an Amarena cherry and a slice of orange peel. Then, the drink is smoked inside a glass and silver box. When the box is opened, a thick layer of smoke clears to reveal the cocktail quietly chilling with a single block of ice. It’s a bit of drama and a wonderfully smooth and smoky sip. Those who say “you can’t buy happiness” have never bought a drink at Charley’s.

The Magic is in the Lardons

The starters section of the menu is seafood-heavy. The quality and variety is outstanding and seafood lovers will have a problem choosing between options. Items featuring sushi-grade ahi, escargot, scallops, lobster, calamari, oysters and crab beckon for attention, but don’t pass on the shrimp cocktail. The shrimp are massive, tender, sweet and served with cocktail and mustard sauces.

A wedge salad is a classic steakhouse menu item and Charley’s Baby Wedge is next-level delicious. It’s cool and crisp with a tang of blue cheese but the magic is in the lardons. Lardons are not just chopped bacon strips, but actual charcuterie cut from the slab about a half-inch thick. The size means the edges get caramelly crisp while the center of these sweet and salty flavor bombs stays soft and meaty. You could just skip the salad and order a bowl of lardons but the salad gives the illusion of healthy eating.

Bone-In and Dry-Aged … Enough Said

Caribbean lobster tails, as big as 34 ounces, crown distinctively colored shells that always make me smile. The meat is sweet and rich. Pierce it with a cocktail fork and drown it in drawn butter. As the flavor explodes, the butter oozes slightly out of the corners of your mouth before being dabbed away with a crisp white napkin. Another option is Chilean sea bass, crusted with crab meat and glazed with mirin and wasabi. It was created by Charley’s, in 2016, for the James Beard House in New York and is delicious.

As wonderful as the seafood is, the big draw of Charley’s Steakhouse is the steaks. They offer all the classic cuts, but skip them and go straight to the 21-day prime dry-aged steak section of the menu. First, all three options, the 22-ounce strip, the 28-ounce rib eye and the 28-ounce porterhouse are on the bone. The bone slows the transfer of heat during the cooking process so the meat is juicier than steaks off the bone. The dry-aging process allows natural enzymes to break down the muscle making the meat more flavorful and tender.

It’s hard to find bone-in, dry-aged steaks in Tampa steakhouses. You might find bone-in or dry-aged, but the combination of both is rare and tips the scales in Charley’s favor. On top of that, steaks are grilled over citrus wood and oak pits. The citrus wood provides a unique flavor you won’t find anywhere else.

While you’re at it, why not add some truffle butter, chimichurri or lump crab, Oscar-style. The side items are just as big and flavorful. A whole head of cauliflower, three days in the making, is roasted on a cedar plank and is tender-crisp delicious. The tower of lobster mac and cheese is laced with lobster bisque and topped with morsels of lobster meat. And who can pass up fresh creamed corn? If you can’t eat it all, no worries, the staff is happy to box what’s left to go.

Don’t Pass on Dessert

Don’t pass on dessert. For something light and local, go with the Plant City strawberry cake. Whipped cream fills three layers of vanilla-scented cake while macerated local berries pop with flavor and color. It’s so pretty and surprisingly light. On the other end of the spectrum is the sweet butter cake. It’s uber-rich and crunchy and the name says it all. Who doesn’t like sweet, butter and cake all together on one plate, served warm with vanilla ice cream? Order the butter cake, even if you can only eat one bite, it’s worth it.

The Generous Finale

For a big night out, Charley’s Steakhouse is hard to beat. And its “Round up for Charity” program shows how much it gives back to the local community. Each month, the Talk of Town Restaurant Group Foundation selects a local charity and all proceeds of the program go to that charity. When the guest check is presented to the table the server asks if the guests would like to round up the bill or add a specified amount. That amount is added to the check as a donation line item. Past charities include Kids Beating Cancer, Special Olympics and the Coastal Conservation Association. Since the program started in 2017, the foundation has raised over $1.7 Million for local charities.

Clark Woodsby, executive vice president of Talk of the Town Restaurant Group, says, “We are a locally owned and operated, independent restaurant group. We raise our families here. To that end, the health and happiness of the local community mean everything. We identified local charities making great strides in this regard, and [we] created the foundation to facilitate beneficial collaboration. The results over the past five years have been nothing short of extraordinary.”

Nothing short of extraordinary describes the big heart and the guest experience of Charley’s Steakhouse.

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