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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. Urban farming takes root in New Port Richey front yards


    NEW PORT RICHEY — "That's Broccoli George's. He started his in 2010," Jim Kovaleski says, walking by 5649 Virginia Avenue.

    At 5705 Virginia: "This one has only been here a year. It's my ex-wife's house," he said. When he leaves in May, he plants a cover crop of black-eyed peas and sweet potatoes, and "when I come home in October, sometimes I come back to 2,000 pounds of sweet potatoes."...

    Jim Kovaleski, a self-proclaimed urban farmer, picks fresh produce at a yard near his home Tuesday, March 14, 2017, in New Port Richey. (CHRIS URSO   |   Times)
  2. Empire Oyster popup raises the raw bar in St. Petersburg

    Food & Dining


    Kevin Joseph stands behind the counter wearing farmer's overalls, his 1967 Chevy Sportvan 108 Deluxe "Shuck Truck" pulled up outside.

    At least among folks who won't think it's pretentious, he calls himself a "mermmelier," a sommelier for oysters. He's in the business of edutainment, explaining the flavor profiles and growing conditions of the up to nine kinds of oysters he's offering; explaining the importance of recycling oyster shells to create reefs and complex ecosystems; explaining how oysters aren't just carbon neutral, they're carbon negative....

    Kevin Joseph imports his Empire Oyster bar to Intermezzo Coffee & Cocktails in St. Petersburg four nights a week.
  3. Dining Planner: New restaurants coming: the Lure in Tampa, Urban at the Trop

    Food & Dining



    The Lure opened in downtown St. Petersburg in January 2016, one of a raft of new casual, mid-price restaurants to debut in town. Fifteen months later, partners Tom Golden (formerly of the Rack in Tampa) and Michael Stewart (Ava, 717 South) announce that they will open a second outpost of the Lure in Tampa at the site of Catrinas Tacos and Tequila Bar at 2402 S MacDill Ave., opened in 2012 by Karol Ortiz and Tisbeth Mejia. The Lure in St. Pete has come to be known as a good-times place for playing some pool and tucking into a mess of tacos (including jerk seasoned and sauteed "chapulines," or grasshoppers, shown right — which some say is the food of the future). Grasshoppers will hop the bay over to the Tampa side not far from Datz, in a freestanding building that has housed Marrakech, Bistro Bleu and others over the years. No date has been set for opening and the space is currently under renovation, says Stewart....

    The partners at the Lure include, from left, Michael Stewart, Tom Golden and Richard Alday.
  4. Restaurant review: The Reading Room in St. Petersburg gets many things right, from food to decor

    Food & Dining


    The Reading Room is doing so many things right that I'm a little dubious I can ram it into 25 inches of copy, so strap in and let's go.

    My first impressions have been known to be fallible (I was not a world-class dater), so I was trepidatious when I first arrived. White and boxy, the building gestures at mid-century modern, more Eichler-practical than Frank Lloyd Wright. The indoor space is gorgeous and spare, with expansive windows on two sides that look out onto a 3,000-square-foot vegetable garden and what will eventually be a gracious patio. It's hip and warm, with a waft of wood-smoke perfume and servers who are intimidatingly cool-looking but remarkably kind....

    From left are Reading Room executive chef Lauren Macellaro, sous chef Jenna Gabrielian, garden caretaker and baker Margo Paraska and service and beverage leader Jessika Palombo.
  5. Dining Planner: Restaurants and bars to celebrate St. Patrick's this year

    Food & Dining

    Easy being green: Celebration spots

    You know what Tampa's Mayor's River O'Green Fest reminds you? Looking out Saturday over that Hillsborough River turned a lively shade of emerald you think, "Darn, I'm thirsty. Where does a person grab a Guinness around here?" • After the family-friendly activities in Curtis Hixon Park, it's grown-up time. Here are spots to raise a pint this weekend, or all year long....

    The Dubliner Irish Pub in Tampa is a smaller, quainter place to toast the patron saint of Ireland. Food and drink specials will be offered all day.
  6. Bulla Gastrobar coming to mixed-use development in Tampa's Soho


    Bulla Gastrobar is coming to the 5,500-square-foot space within the Morrison mixed-use development at 936 S Howard Ave., joining the previously announced Zoe's Kitchen.

    The Morrison is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2017. A Spanish-inspired tapas concept that began in Miami, Bulla's menu will include shared small-plate items such as black foot iberico pork sausage from Salamanca; ahi tuna tartare with mango, avocado, soy sesame vinaigrette and Sriracha aioli; Cubano iberico (bellota ham, piparras, presa billota, tetilla cheese, mustard aioli, pan de cristal); and hazelnut waffles. ...

    Bulla Gastrobar is coming to the 5,500-square-foot space within The Morrison mixed-use development at 936 S Howard Ave.
  7. Dining Planner: Bulla Gastrobar coming to Tampa; Nutrition Factory, Uncle Maddio's pizza open

    Food & Dining



    Bulla Gastrobar is coming to the 5,500-square-foot space within the Morrison mixed-use development at 936 S Howard Ave., joining the previously announced Zoe's Kitchen. The Morrison is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2017. A Spanish-inspired tapas concept that began in Miami, Bulla's menu will include shared small-plate items such as black foot iberico pork sausage from Salamanca; ahi tuna tartare with mango, avocado, soy sesame vinaigrette and Sriracha aioli; Cubano iberico (bellota ham, piparras, presa billota, tetilla cheese, mustard aioli, pan de cristal); and hazelnut waffles. The restaurant will also offer a variety of larger plates, such as a 45-day dry-aged Bulla burger with piquillo peppers, cipollini onions and a honey thyme glaze, served with truffle fries. Bulla will feature an expansive wine list and a range of Spanish-inspired craft cocktails....

    Currently located in Tampa Bay's Ballast Point, Big Ray's Fish Camp will take up new residence at The SAIL, Tampa's 360-degree waterfront bar.
  8. Restaurant review: Acqua Alta is a charmer in Clearwater, partly for what it doesn't have

    Food & Dining


    There's a first time for everything. About a month ago, a new restaurant at the border of Safety Harbor and Clearwater started tweeting at me. The gist of the tweets was "Check us out," accompanied by come-hither food photos of pastas and pastries and interesting veggie-forward appetizers.

    I was tweaked by a tweet, my curiosity piqued.

    Rimma Kolesnikova, her husband Leonardo Castaldi, and their friend, chef Paolo Polo, put their heads together and debuted Acqua Alta in December. In many ways, this small strip mall restaurant is a departure from what we've seen before....

    Acqua Alta opened in Clearwater in December.
  9. Dining planner: Food fests galore, from Strawberry Festival to Busch Gardens Food & Wine

    Food & Dining


    BERRY SWEET: Florida Strawberry Festival food


    Thursday marks the launch of the Florida Strawberry Festival, an annual paean to this state's favorite berry. Just looking for the unvarnished fruit? On the south side of the festival you can pick up a flat from Parkesdale Farms and on the northeast corner Wish Farms is selling its stuff. But then you have an array of strawberry shortcakes; strawberry milkshakes from Brandon Farms, Polar Bear Ice Cream and Fruit and Cream Hut; chocolate-dipped strawberries from Chocolate Strawberry Express and Mavric's Chocolate Barn; plus strawberry jam, strawberry hamburgers (why?), strawberry pie, crepes, fritters, cheesecake and pizza (okay, this is where I draw the line). But you get the idea....

    Busch Gardens’ Food & Wine Festival begins this weekend.
  10. Restaurant review: Asiatic Street Food & Noodle Bar brings solid Thai dining option to Centro Ybor

    Food & Dining


    Centro Ybor has been rough stuff when looking for something good to eat over the years. Samurai Blue has always held down the fort, as has Tampa Bay Brewing Co., and certainly Hamburger Mary's gets some points on the board for providing a rollicking good time.

    More recently, Carne Chop House has elevated the options, but otherwise things have come and gone, never cementing the complex as a notable dining destination. ...

    The Nhua Yang is thinly sliced flank steak seasoned and grilled served with savory lime fish dipping sauce. Asiatic has been open since late December and features ??? ?? street food??? ??  and noodle dishes similar to what you??? ?? ?d find on the streets of Thailand: fresh entrees characterized for a complex mix of at least three (and up to four of five) tastes in each dish. This could be sour, salty, bitter, sweet tangy and/or spicy. It’s in the space formerly occupied by Fresh Mouth on the ground floor of Centro Ybor
  11. Could hops be Florida's next big crop? Researchers aren't so sure yet



    The King of Beers is not at risk of being dethroned, but its reign is looking shakier.

    University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers are in the second year of a $158,000 grant from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services to develop a viable hops crop that could work in the Sunshine State — and local craft beer brewers are taking notice....

    After last year’s plant shoots were possibly infected, researchers this year are using tissue cultures, which produce clones of a plant.
  12. Dining Planner: Local roasters compete at CoffeeFest in Nashville, chocolate festival at Ren Fest

    Food & Dining

    What's the buzz: CoffeeFest

    Florida has more than 70 coffee roasters and more than 200 coffee shops, even keeping Daddy Starbucks out of the mix. Two establishments in the state have been selected to participate in the cold-brew competition at CoffeeFest in Nashville, Tenn., March 17-19. Concord Coffee from Lakeland and Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters of Hernando in Citrus County are heading there to represent, competing against 22 other teams....

  13. Restaurant review: Noble Rice is doing the most exciting izayaka dining in Tampa Bay

    Food & Dining


    When Eric Fralick first fell in love with Japan, it was with anime and video games. It was much later that other kinds of love settled in.

    He moved to the country for five years after college, living in the city of Shizuoka and in Tokyo and learning the allures of izakaya, the casual pub-style restaurants frequently equipped with picture menus and a communal small-plate approach. Back stateside, he met his wife Adriana, a Tampa native, in New York. Together they started an iced tea company called Sweet Dispositions (it's huge in Switzerland and Germany), and later began bottling their tea via a company in Dade City. ...

    Yakitori skewers are essentially a variety of small grilled bites. The avocado is served ready to scoop with a citrusy ponzu and a touch of wasabi.
  14. There are acres of leafy greens inside these shipping crates on an old St. Petersburg junkyard


    ST. PETERSBURG — The would-be farmers bought three transoceanic refrigerated shipping containers, just a little dinged up, for $6,500 each.

    Shannon O'Malley and Bradley Doyle had them hauled to a distressed property they purchased on Second Avenue S and painted them a vibrant green. The green of John Deere tractors and regimented rows of farm crops.

    Because this is what they were building: a farm. Brick Street Farms....

    An event space surrounds the hydroponic containers at Brick Street Farms in the Grand Central District of St. Petersburg. Each hydroponically equipped container has its own controlled climate: one for kale, one for herbs and one for heirloom lettuce.
  15. Semifinalists for 2017 James Beard awards include Tampa Bay chefs Chris Ponte and Ferrell Alvarez

    Food & Dining

    Chris Ponte, chef-owner of Cafe Ponte in Clearwater and On Swann in Tampa, was clearly recovering from Valentine's Day, a nightmare for chefs and the second busiest restaurant day of the year. (Mother's Day is first.) Ferrell Alvarez of Rooster & the Till in Tampa was coming off two weeks of 16-hour days thanks to some staffing changes.

    But on Wednesday morning, their moods took a decided turn for the better: They learned that they had each been named Restaurant and Chef Award semifinalists for the 27th annual James Beard Foundation Awards....

    Ferrell Alvarez is chef and 
co-owner at Tampa’s Rooster & the Till.