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Laura Reiley, Times Food Critic

Laura Reiley

Laura Reiley is the Tampa Bay Times' restaurant critic and a former critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Baltimore Sun. She is the author of four books in the Moon Handbook series: Florida Gulf Coast; Walt Disney World and Orlando; Tampa and St. Petersburg; and the Paradise Coast. She has cooked professionally and is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy.

Phone: (727) 892-2293


Twitter: @LReiley

  1. Food truck owners set up shop in brick and mortar restaurants

    Food & Dining

    The wheels are coming off.

    Remember when food trucks were a hot new trend? In 2011 the Tampa Bay area started with about 13 food trucks; today that number is more than 150, with new ones coming onboard each week.

    The trend is evolving again. An increasing number of those mobile vendors are using their food trucks to build a client base and refine a concept before launching brick-and-mortar restaurants....

     Jennifer Byrd (pictured), Scott Brown, and Misty Brown, food truck owners of Aloha To Go and Dude And His Food, have merged their ideas together to create the brick and mortar restaurant The Aloha Dude, located in Island Shores. "What's exciting is being able to expand my menu and watching people come in from far away who have followed the truck, just to get Hawaiian food. I think we are very innovative in our concept of merging two trucks to do one spot," Byrd said. [SOPHIA NAHLI ALLISON  |   Times]
  2. Dining Planner: Three local drinking festivals and a food truck court

    Food & Dining


    Feeling thirsty, Tampa Bay? Take a gander at the whistle-wetting possibilities this week.

    WaZoo, named one of the top 10 beer festivals in the country by USA Today, celebrates its 20th anniversary with an all-inclusive tropical tasting party from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday. It features 275 beers and beverages from around the world, food sampling from local restaurants and live music. VIP passes include early admission (6:30 p.m.), air-conditioned Safari Lodge with special beer and restaurant tastings, animal encounters and a souvenir beer mug. $60 in advance, $65 until Friday, $70 day of event; $100 VIP, limited availability. Designated driver ticket is $40, $75 VIP. Lowry Park Zoo, 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa. (813) 935-8552, ext. 329.

    Zoo animal ambassador Leslie Beck shows a spotted python to a WaZoo guest.
  3. Review: St. Petersburg's Souzou debuts strong with Asian fusion, lots of parking

    Food & Dining


    When friends Mike Harting and Patrick Marston put their heads together to sleuth out untrammeled ground in downtown St. Petersburg's increasingly dense restaurant landscape, they came at it from a number of directions. First, they chose a spot at 435 Fifth Ave. N that offers something increasingly rare: parking (seriously, stalking pedestrians for their parking spaces is practically a hobby these days along Beach Drive). And they chose upscale Asian fusion as a cuisine — yes, there is a lot of Asian downtown (the Lemon Grass, La V, Sushi Inc., Sab Cafe, I could keep going), but not little-black-dress-worthy. And finally, in this era of exhaustive booze, craft beer and cocktail lists, they opted for a trim, curated approach to liquids....

    The front bar room gets gorgeous rough-hewn tables made of natural-edged walnut slabs.
  4. Amid the GMO labeling fight, industry experts weigh in


    The battle over the labeling of genetically modified foods continues at a fevered pitch. Also called genetically engineered food, these are crops or animals whose genes are altered in a laboratory, as opposed to traditional breeding.

    Should consumers know about that by reading a label?

    After contentious debate, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would prohibit states from requiring labels on genetically modified foods. Backed by many heavy-hitters in agribusiness, the bill, if it passes in the Senate, would void Vermont, Maine and Connecticut's laws passed recently requiring the labeling of GM foods....

    A customer shops at the Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier, Vt., one of three states that have passed GMO labeling laws.
  5. Dining Planner: Celebrate National Vanilla Ice Cream Day, plus restaurant changes in Dunedin

    Food & Dining


    Thursday is National Vanilla Ice Cream Day. Mail will be delivered, banks remain open, but still, this is a heartfelt annual tribute to the Madagascar beans that have given of themselves in the making of rich, creamy churned splendor. In keeping with the gravity of the event, we herewith assemble some of the top places for a vanilla cone, cup or shake. (Okay, you got us. National Ice Cream Day was July 19, so we had to go with a narrower focus on this one.)...

    Vanilla ice cream waffle cone.
  6. Cookbook reviews: Bern's Steak House's 'Bern's: Rare & Well Done' and Fabrizio Aielli's 'Sea Salt'

    Food & Dining

    Bern's: Rare & Well Done

    By David and Christina Laxer

    Story Farm Publishing, 255 pages, $49.99

    Debatably the most fabled restaurant in Florida, Bern's Steak House is the subject of a new book with nearly the heft of its notoriously doorstop-sized wine list (said to be the largest in the world). A previous book on the restaurant was released in 2002, the year of founder Bern Laxer's untimely death, but Bern's: Rare & Well Done makes it clear that the Laxer legacy has been nurtured and maintained by current owners David and Christina Laxer. Written in collaboration with Chris Sherman, former food critic for the Tampa Bay Times, the book unspools chronologically, with great old black-and-white family photos from the restaurant's early years, as well as behind-the-scenes shots of the restaurant's metal shop, coffee roasting facility and sewing room. (The restaurant has a sewing room?!) ...

  7. Review: Beach Drive's Stillwaters Tavern serving familiar food with flair in gorgeous setting

    Food & Dining


    White subway tile gleams, both modern sleek and industrial utilitarian. Above hang thick nautical rope pendants from which delicately filamented Edison bulbs dangle. The 20 rotating beers, four wines and two cocktails on tap flow through massive black industrial pipes, the particulars of which flash by on two train station-style Solari boards. In short, Stillwaters Tavern, opened in June at the site of the longtime Bruce Watters Jewelers space on Beach Drive, is about as handsome as any restaurant in Pinellas County. • 2B Hospitality (Robert Sanderson, Dyce Craig, Lee Karlins and Top Chef contestant Jeffrey Jew) has the assurance borne of operating an already successful venture, their bustling contemporary Italian BellaBrava just down the block. This new project was orchestrated with precision and a clear eye about the niche it aimed to fill on St. Petersburg's already rich Restaurant Row. It would be a new American tavern, dishes ranging from down-home with a faint Southern accent to New England coastal classics, all in support of an ambitious bar program....

    The No. 3 cocktail at Stillwaters Tavern is made with Prairie Vodka, fresh raspberries and ginger. The drinks eschew names in favor of numbers, prompting patrons to scan the full ingredient list.
  8. Dining Planner: A new TAPS, Bonefish birthday and chocolate making classes

    Food & Dining


    Opening this week, TAPS brings French brasserie stylings to Tampa's International Plaza with its new location on Bay Street next to Capital Grille. Owner James DeVito has had a restaurant of the same name downtown in Tampa for seven years, adjacent to what is now Anise Global Gastrobar (where DeVito once had the excellent Raw), and several others around the state in Winter Park, Naples and Fort Lauderdale. ...

    Among the top five tastes this month: the beef carpaccio topped with the gooey-yolked goat-cheesy ravioli at Brick & Mortar in St. Petersburg.
  9. Review: Cask Social Kitchen in Tampa offers sophistication, new Southern dishes

    Food & Dining


    I was always trying to figure out Mangroves. It was a nightclub that, for a while, had really good food. But it sometimes was populated by grim-looking sturdy older Russian guys with pinky rings and their preternaturally bored 6-foot-tall model/whatever girlfriends. Who were these people? Did they live in Tampa? Sometimes Mangroves was Cougar Town, sometimes fake IDs abounded. When it became Sunova Beach last year it was less enigmatic, but the food was nothing of note. (Alright, the fries with multiple dipping sauces were solid.)...

    Cask Social Kitchen in Tampa is the handiwork of partners TJ Miller, Adam Izkowitz and Vincent Jackson, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver.
  10. Dining Planner: New Vinoy speakeasy, new Kahwa and … lobster at Subway?

    Food & Dining


    KAHWA COFFEE ROASTING COMPANY clearly has high-octane plans to caffeinate the world. They just announced plans to open a first St. Pete drive-through at 301 38th Ave. N in August. The ninth store, in a former bank, will feature a drive-through and walk-up cafe with large indoor and outdoor seating areas. The new Kahwa Cafe will be the fifth and most northern St. Petersburg location. And after that? Locations in downtown Sarasota and Westchase as part of a new apartment complex. More proof that Tampa Bay may never sleep again: They recently debuted their own single-serve K-Cup-style Kahwa Cups....

    Tijuana Flats is offering hemp tortillas for a limited time, so you can order a burweedo (not really, but hemp is supposed to be super nutritious).
  11. It's raining naan: New Indian restaurants around Tampa Bay are both affordable and familiar

    Food & Dining


    It's raining naan, hallelujah. Indian food is one of my faves, that wonderful array of spices, with textural interest provided by soupy lentil dals, spongy housemade cheese, fuchsia-tinged tandoori meats, pillowy puffed breads and condiments with heat and sizzle. In the past few weeks a passel of new Indian restaurants has opened, all at an affordable price point and offering some familiar dishes and other novelty items. • Fowler and Fletcher avenues in Tampa are home to the greatest density of Indian restaurants in the area, and if you ask Anu Vohra why that is, her answer might surprise. Yes, it's because there are a fair number of Indian residents and Indian-heavy businesses, but the more salient reason is that the biggest and best Indian grocery stores are on those streets. Those who are of Indian decent or who seek Indian ingredients head to Patel Bros. or other stores, and then it's one-stop shopping to scoot in for tandoori chicken and a hot order of onion kulcha....

    Vegetable biryani is on the menu at Desi by Nature in Tampa.
  12. Dining Planner: Where to eat on the Fourth of July, plus a showing from Dr. BBQ

    Food & Dining


    For most of us, Saturday evening will culminate in looking skyward while saying, "Oooooohhhhhhh." July Fourth fireworks displays are preceded in large measure by backyard barbecues, but if you find yourself peckish preshow, here are some dining suggestions.


    ,Annata Wine Bar, 300 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg; (727) 851-9582...

    Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe of St. Petersburg will appear on NBC’s Food Fighters on Thursday.
  13. Review: Fabrica Woodfired Pizza brings custom pizzas to Tampa's Channel District

    Food & Dining


    If you work out at the Orangetheory Fitness center in Channelside, you've got to be a little nervous right now. Your spandex is soggy and your muscles burn, time to go out and rock the day. But what's this? The smell of thin-crust Neapolitan-style pizza? Each pie customized and available in 90 seconds? You're looking at a lot more time on the rowing machine.

    As the Channel District has filled up with young professionals drawn by Tampa urban living (finally), infrastructure has filled in around the complexes at Pierhouse at Channelside and Grand Central at Kennedy. Brand new on the scene is Fabrica Woodfired Pizza, Mayor Buckhorn to preside over its official "dough cutting" on July 17. Jonathan and Estefania Perez, working with San Francisco-based Culinary Edge consultants, have brought a quick-serve, Chipotle-ish approach to sophisticated dark-edged, tender-middled pizzas, the 'za lineup supplemented by smart salads, some really good meatballs and doodads like craft beer and gelato. The prices are very reasonable and you can take it to-go; that right there could put a little crimp in the magnitude of your Orange Effect....

    Fabrica Woodfired Pizza will have its official “dough cutting,” with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, on July 17.
  14. Ray Lampe, a.k.a. Dr. BBQ, offers grilling advice on rubs, marinades and brining



    Barbecue titans quake when they see him. He's buds with Guy Fieri, but also helped pal Justin Timberlake with his Southern Hospitality in New York. And he's routinely seen as a judge on shows like Chopped, World Food Championships and American Grilled.

    If you know what he looks like, he's hard to miss: a big guy with a white flattop and a long cylindrical, maybe even goaty, beard. Oh, and he sports a tattoo of a watch on his left arm (couldn't quite see what time it reads) and often wears a chef's jacket with flames licking down the sleeves. In short, he doesn't exactly blend. But Ray Lampe is undoubtedly St. Petersburg's most famous chef whom no one knows....

    Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe of St. Petersburg has written the book on barbecue, or rather several of them. He has been on the barbecue circuit, grilling professionally, for more than two decades.
  15. Wines to pair with grilled chicken, seafood and red meats

    Bars & Spirits

    You've got the fancy grill tongs, the special mesquite wood chips and the space-age meat thermometer, everything you need to get serious at the barbecue. But now you're thirsty. Parched, in fact. What to quaff with grillables is tricky, but Tampa's Cru Cellars sommelier and general manager William Lucius has you covered. • He grills all the time, he says, but since moving to Florida he leans toward roses, lighter reds and crisper whites. Laura Reiley, Times food critic...