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

Email: lreiley@tampabay.com

Twitter: @LReiley

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  1. Review: Yard of Ale GastroPub is a winner by a mile

    Food & Dining

    CLEARWATER

    I reviewed this space favorably back in 2008 when it debuted as The Venue, then less favorably in 2011 when the nightclub concept's ambitious restaurants were dumbed down, then less favorably still in 2012 when it changed hands and became the V. In all of its incarnations, one of the chief problems was this: It was way too big. The 28,000-square-foot complex drew its aesthetic from nightclubs of an earlier decade, and on a Tuesday night with even a hundred people eating, drinking, dancing, flirting, it still seemed cavernously empty....

    The Yard of Ale Gastro Pub, 2675 Ulmerton Road, in Clearwater, is connected to Vertigo, a high energy dance club and lounge night club destination in a gargantuan space, more than 23,000 square-feet of nightclubby excess in Feather Sound. The pub bought the concept earlier this year and hit on the right idea: break up the space, turning one part of it into a lunch and dinner, beer-focused gastro pub with solid burgers and such, and then turning the remainder into a club that is open only some nights a week to the public and other nights for private parties and special events.
  2. Fritters: battered, fried and fit for any gathering

    Cooking

    Just about every culture has them. There are Indian pakora, Turkish mucver, even the Deep South's hush puppies. Hot, crunchy, batter-dipped doodads that more broadly fit under the genus fritter, they are nearly the perfect party appetizer. • And in a way they're doubly perfect for my special peeps. These are the folks I invite to my house when things are going exceptionally well or really kind of awful. Cooking for them buoys my spirits, except now there's the one who's pescatarian, another who is vegetarian, one trying to go low-carb, one steering clear of red meat. • The answer, my friends, is fritters. Even studded with seafood, they are fairly affordable to make, dominated by egg, milk, flour and seasonings. A batch of batter not much more complicated than pancakes can be whipped up just as guests arrive, then dropped by spoonful into hot oil until they bob, golden, to the surface. Zap them into a napkin-lined basket and offer them with a dipping sauce and it's like the last watering hole on the savanna. • A huge number of veggies are fritter-friendly: corn, zucchini, carrots, black beans, sweet potatoes, onions and onward. Then add in all the sweet-side fruity options, from bananas to apples, and it's a fritter frenzy. The sticking point for most of us? The frying....

    Powered sugar tops a Lemon Ricotta dessert fritter. The can be served with strawberry coulis made of frozen strawberries in syrup thawed, pureed and strained.
  3. Review: Alma in Madeira Beach needs fresh approach

    Food & Dining

    MADEIRA BEACH

    Cake mixes were a convenience food launched after World War II, better living through science where all you had to add was water. Only, home cooks didn't like them. They thought it was cheating to claim authorship of such a cake. So Duncan Hines et al retooled and offered cake mixes to which you had to add eggs, milk and maybe oil. Victory: Home cooks loved them and claimed them proudly as homemade. • It's a slippery slope, what constitutes prepared food and what is homemade. Unbeknownst to many diners, this is doubly the case in restaurants these days. A food distributor like Florida's Cheney Brothers or the national Sysco offer ever more sophisticated heat-and-serve dishes, many of which come with ready-to-plate sauces, garnishes and sides. I know this because I eat out a couple hundred times a year and I keep eating the same food. Really, the exact same food....

    The Alma Trio: grilled petite sirloin with demi glace, jumbo lump crab cake with spicy aioli, jumbo shrimp and sea scallop skewer with charred pineapple mango salsa. The drink is a blackberry-, raspberry- and sage-infused Tanqueray gin martini.
  4. Business split resolves CopperFish dispute

    Food & Dining

    The dispute that had embroiled popular Tampa restaurant CopperFish has been resolved.

    Former SoHo Hospitality partners Kevin Enderle and Chas Bruck announced Tuesday that they have split from partner Gordon Davis to form the new BE-1 Concepts. BE-1 will maintain full ownership of Boca Kitchen Bar and Market and Ciro's Speakeasy and Supper Club, while Davis will maintain ownership of CopperFish Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar. This follows an acrimonious period that culminated in a lawsuit filed in August by landlord Howard Park Properties (Davis) against SoHo for failure to pay rent....

  5. Review: Roux brings Big Easy flavors, and a wait, to Tampa

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA

    One of the remarkable things that came out of Hurricane Katrina was Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans. People were still digging out, the Lower 9th Ward was a shambles, but folks needed Grandma's etouffee recipe to feel whole again. Recipes can be like that in New Orleans: official as birth certificates, their twists traceable as family trees. ...

    Roux’s Quail & Sweet Potato Waffles features crispy, beer-battered quail, Barq’s root beer reduction, spicy praline pecans and mayhaw coulis.
  6. Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show displays hospitality products

    Consumer

    ORLANDO — The 43rd annual Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show held at the Orange County Convention Center last week in Orlando featured demos by celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse and dramatic daily American Culinary Federation team competitions. But the most entertaining part is wandering the more than 450 booths displaying tens of thousands of food service and hospitality products. Some of this is about snacking options, but much of the fun is imagining which products will find their way into Tampa Bay area restaurants soon. Here are my picks for coolest new products....

  7. Review: An '80s flashback, Shells will find a way

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETE BEACH

    In my family, the Land of Lionel Richie is the place where overexposed celebrities go when — blam — they disappear. They are everywhere, and then all at once nowhere. In 1986 Richie was everywhere, by 1987 he'd gone to the Land. What was confusing, then, was when Richie came back from the Land of Lionel Richie, maybe turning the keys over to Wesley Snipes....

    Once, there were 45 Shells Seafood spots. Then they fell on hard times. But now they’re back, including this one in St. Pete Beach.
  8. Review: Annata Wine Bar on Beach Drive offers superb sips, nibbles

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG

    What makes a cheese board exceptional?

    Range is important. You've got to have different animal types (goat, sheep, cow), but also different rind types (bloomy rind cheeses like Brie, Camembert and triple creams; washed rind or stinky monastery-style cheeses; natural rinds) as well as different styles (a fresh cheese, a pressed cheese like Manchego, a cooked pressed cheese like a Gruyere, maybe a flavored cheese or a blue cheese). ...

    The Pan-Seared Scallop With Creamed Corn, Tomato, Bacon and Pickled Jalapeño sits on a plate lined with cilantro pesto.
  9. Review: Ulele brings Old Florida style, substance to Tampa waterfront

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA

    It's the most expensive $1 Richard Gonzmart ever spent.

    In 2011, part of the agenda of newly elected Mayor Bob Buckhorn was to expand on the success of Curtis Hixon Park, to extend the Tampa Riverwalk, to revive the derelict historic Water Works Building. Gonzmart got the bid, leasing the 1906 serious fixer-upper from the city for $1 a year. To open a restaurant there? Maybe another $2 million....

    Deconstructed Seafood Pot Pie is a chowder of shrimp, octopus, grouper, smoked oysters and vegetables in a white wine cream. It’s flanked by pillows of puff pastry and asparagus on wild rice.
  10. Emerging New Florida cuisine is like history on a plate

    Food & Dining

    The new star ingredient on Tampa Bay menus: Florida's rich history.

    It's there in the protein, it's there in the veggies and the sauces and the starches. Together, it might be described as a nascent New Florida cuisine.

    For the first time since the 1980s, a style is emerging that feels unique to the Sunshine State, distinct from the foods of the Deep South, Low Country or bayous of Louisiana. It's Southern-inflected, seafood-centric, with a reliance on Florida ingredients, nods to Spanish roots and down-home "Cracker" and American Indian ingenuity, topped off with a bit of Latin and even Caribbean flair....

    “The challenge is going to be that no one is going to say, ‘Wow, this swamp cabbage is just like my grandmother made.’ People may not have a genetic or familial connection to it,” says Curtis Beebe, owner of Pearl in the Grove in Dade City.
  11. Restaurants, breweries collaborate to offer signature beers

    Food & Dining

    Every restaurant worth its salt these days offers a selection of craft beers, often drilling down to showcase local and regional options. And now restaurants are taking it one step further, brewing their own beers or partnering with local breweries to develop signature suds. • These "bespoke beers" are one of the year's biggest national trends, and in the Tampa Bay area a number of these collaborations are available for local diners to sample. • Not surprisingly, Tampa's Cigar City, the grandfather of Florida craft brewing, was early to explore collaborations with restaurants. They have done two beers exclusively for Bern's Steak House, one in 2013 called Legacy One, a rich, dark barley wine-style beer made in a Four Roses single-barrel bourbon barrel, and one this year called Legacy Two, a Belgian dubbel made in a Mount Gay rum barrel....

    Ty Weaver, head brewer at 3 Daughters Brewing, and Vinoy executive chef Mark Heimann collaborated on the signature Paul’s Landing. Heimann created a few dishes to go with the fruity wheat beer named for William Paul, who helped to start the orange groves in the area in 1854.
  12. Review: Explore rich flavors of Afghanistan at Anaar in Tampa

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA

    I am going to wager that most of you haven't eaten it. Yes, you've covered your knees with an afghan when you're a little chilly, you've watched those silky Afghan hounds prance at dog shows, but have you ever tried Afghan cuisine? Didn't think so. That's because there are so few restaurants in the United States (and even in Afghanistan, I'm told).

    One of the first in this country was Caravan Sarai in St. Paul, Minn., opened more than 40 years ago. There's a long-standing great one in Baltimore called the Helmand, which for a long time had a sister restaurant of the same name in San Francisco (which battled it out with competitor Kabul for top Afghan restaurant in that city). There are a couple in New York and in Boston, but overall, it's a dramatically underrepresented cuisine....

    The offerings at Anaar, on Henderson Boulevard in Tampa, include, from left, Kabuli Palaw, Lia’s Loaded Fries and Chicken Carahi. Family-style meals, which are appetizer-entree-dessert combinations, also are available. And, there’s a full bar.
  13. Our food writer conquers Arby's Meat Mountain: Is it any good? (w/ video)

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — I planted my flag on Meat Mountain, and it was good.

    You know the saying about why Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Mount Everest? "Because it was there." It's apropos.

    This summer Arby's hung posters showing a preposterous stack of different meats on a bun, largely to combat its reputation as a roast beef-only kind of place. But the story goes that people kept asking, "Um, can I have the sandwich on that poster?"...

    It’s not on the menu so when you go to Arby’s you have to ask for the Meat Mountain.  It costs $10.00 and has pepper bacon, roast beef, cheddar cheese, angus beef, brisket, corned beef, swiss cheese, ham, turkey and a chicken tender. And supposedly only 1,275 calories.
  14. Trouble brewing at CopperFish over city fines, unpaid rent

    Retail

    TAMPA — A suit filed this week in Tampa may cause a ripple of fear among local foodies: South Tampa's CopperFish, one of the most exciting debuts of 2013, has hit a rocky patch.

    The plaintiff, Howard Park Properties, alleges that CopperFish has failed to pay rent since June.

    The connections between the landlord and tenant are snarly, though. Gordon Davis is the president of Howard Park and owner of the building, but he's also partners with Kevin Enderle, brothers Chas Bruck and Kyle Bruck and Michael Blesser in SoHo Hospitality Management Group, which oversees Boca, Ciro's, the new Bizou Brasserie in Le Meridien hotel and CopperFish (Samba Room Tampa LLC is an additional limited liability company for the CopperFish location)....

    EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN   |   Times  The CopperFish Platter, consisting of jumbo prawns, chef's choice oysters, Middle Neck clams, poached lobster, and crab cocktail.
  15. Galápagos, a natural selection for seeing all manner of wildlife

    Travel

    ECUADOR

    The flimsy sink was positioned right over the bucket, a few tiny leaves thrown into the clear water to demonstrate as the man in khaki pulled the plug. The water, the leaves: straight down. He moved the bucket and sink 2 feet to the north of the line painted on concrete, repeated the experiment and the water swirled clockwise. A couple of feet south of the line and the water sucked the leaves counterclockwise down into the bucket....

    The Sally Lightfoot crab is one of the few saltwater crab species in the Galápagos. Their young are dark brown to provide camouflage against the black lava, but the adults are loud and proud.