Make us your home page

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. Dining Planner: All you need to know about St. Petersburg's Localicious

    Food & Dining


    Last year the first Localicious Eat Local and Drink Local week, the brainchild of Olga Bof of Keep St. Petersburg Local, seemed audacious. Were there really enough locally made foods, food trucks, breweries, distilleries, markets and so forth to merit a solid week of festivities? This year the answer is more like: How are we going to do it in just a week? From Oct. 16 to 25, it's a dizzying opportunity to celebrate St. Pete's recent proliferation of artisanal foods, markets, breweries and locally focused eateries. Presented by Rollin' Oats, all week long the festival includes special brews at local breweries, but here's the rundown on individual events:...

    Sarasota chef Paul Mattison will be in Tampa for a pair of events in October: a cooking class and dinner at the Epicurean Hotel on Oct. 16; and a meet-and-greet at Oxford Exchange to debut his new cookbook on Oct. 18.
  2. Restaurant review: Hofbrauhaus does better with beers, revelry than food

    Food & Dining


    The father, from New Port Richey, and the son, from South Tampa, have rented a local hotel room for the night so they can imbibe freely, their identical sets of goat-skin lederhosen sprouting matching thickets of chest hair above the embroidered cross piece that spans their suspenders. (Fun fact No. 1: Purchased years ago at Oktoberfest in Munich, the lederhosen are never washed. Never.) At the bar, a bartender doesn't flinch when the bottom drops out of a dimpled liter stein mid-pour, the glass clearly weakened by overly vehement toasting and prosting. In the center of the room a small blond girl twirls and flaps her arms to the oompah version of John Paul Young's Love is in the Air. (Fun fact No. 2: Every Bavarian-style oompah band can and will play Y.M.C.A. and Sweet Caroline as well.)...

    For dessert, the Hofbrauhaus, St. Petersburg serves imported apple strudel served with vanilla and raspberry sauces.
  3. Chefs rally for a cause at Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner

    Food & Dining

    Chef Chad Johnson's timeline was tight, starting at 3:30 p.m. with a family meal and culminating at about 4 a.m. when 31 Tampa Bay chefs finished giving each other a hard time. Johnson was the force behind the second Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner on Sept. 27. Proceeds from the $300-per-ticket dinner benefit the Bern Laxer Memorial Scholarship Fund, administered through the James Beard Foundation. In the dining room at Haven guests enjoyed dishes like Bern's chef Habteab Hamde's squab with truffle and white eggplant, as well as Chris Ponte's (Café Ponte) foie gras mousse cupcakes and Tyson Grant's (Parkshore Grille) Mote Marine red drum with local sea greens, each course paired with high-end wines. An enviable way to spend three hours, sure, but the real action was in the kitchen as dozens of the area's top chefs enjoyed the opportunity to spend a little time working toward a common goal, everyone chipping in to get each course out into the dining room. ...

    Chefs pull together to finish the vision of Jeffrey Hileman, a chef at Locale Market: 
60-day dry-aged strip with Brooks cherry, charred baby onion and Ethiopian coffee jus.
  4. Try This: Betsy's Best line of cinnamony nut, seed butters from Naples mom


    It takes a one-minute walk down a center aisle at Trader Joe's to conclude something: Nut butters are killing it right now. There's the traditional peanut (smooth, chunky, organic, unsalted, etc.), but almond and cashew butters are nipping at peanut's heels; sunflower is surging ahead, sometimes teaming up with chia, flax or other fancy seeds for extra sass.

    What's behind it? Nuts are a good fat, keep you satiated longer and are packed with nutrients. Plus, they make an instant smear-it-on sandwich and a dollop-it-in addition to smoothies....

    Betsy Opyt of Naples sells Betsy’s Best, her nut and seed butters, in Whole Foods.
  5. New Bavaro's Neapolitan pizza to open in St. Petersburg

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — Dan Bavaro is on fire. One that's about 800 degrees Fahrenheit and makes crusts extra crunchy.

    He debuted his first Bavaro's in downtown Tampa early in 2009, back when opening a restaurant there was a leap of faith. The tiny Neapolitan pizza and pasta spot flourished, then he debuted his line of sauces. A huge hit, they are now in more than 2,000 stores nationally (he just got a contract at Costco for Texas and packs 500 gallons of sauce as a time). In June he opened a second Bavaro's location in Winter Springs, and he nailed a contract for a spot in Tampa International Airport's upcoming expansion. ...

    The first Bavaro’s opened in downtown Tampa early in 2009, 
a tiny Neapolitan pizza and pasta spot that has flourished.
  6. Dining Planner: Fall feasting at Tampa Bay History Center, tailgate festival, bacon-themed 5K

    Food & Dining


    At this year's annual black-tie Tampa Bay History Center Gala on Oct. 9, the food has a story to tell, too. The theme this year is "Honoring Our Past, Celebrating Our Future," with the Columbia Restaurant offering guests multicourse menus from the 1920s and the 2020s. Smoked salmon topped with creme fraiche, deviled eggs with caviar and paella campesina harken back to the 1920s, while organic, farm-to-table offerings like hand-carved roasted lean buffalo sirloin presage future culinary trends....
  7. Review: Diederich's 'Sofrito' a savory debut novel about Cuba


    Just before Cuba busts open and its complicated essence is diluted by un montón de turistas, Phillippe Diederich's debut novel gives us an immersion complete with sights, sounds and — maybe most importantly — tastes. Food and travel go together, both with the power to edify, transport and even haunt. Sofrito does all three.

    Middle-aged New York restaurateur Frank Delgado is sleep-walking through his life, a fact that must be apparent even to even the most casual customer of Maduros, on the Upper East Side. Business is dead, debts are mounting....

    Cover of 'Sofrito' [Credit: Al Dia News]
  8. Review: Cider Press Cafe proves vegan-raw food can be vibrant and exciting

    Food & Dining


    One of the Tampa Bay area's rock star chefs is overseeing a kitchen where she never lifts a frying pan or flips something on the grill. Is Patrice Murphy (Pearl in the Grove, Edison, the Refinery) getting lazy in her new gig at the Cider Press Café? • Hardly. • She is at the helm of the second location of a popular Naples vegan-raw restaurant owned by Roland Strobel and Johan Everstijn. What just a few years ago would have been a head-scratcher, raw food has taken hold here. Beginning with Leafy Greens in 2008, and Vida de Cafe in Pass-a-Grille, the now-closed Taste of Eden in Brandon and others more recently, the idea of entirely vegetable-based "cooking" (I use that term loosely because no food creeps past 117 degrees, the point at which helpful enzymes are killed) doesn't spook too many folks now....

    Rock star chef Patrice Murphy, whose resume includes stints at Pearl in the Grove and Edison, is at the helm of the local outpost of the Cider Press Caf?, the popular Naples vegan-raw restaurant.
  9. Foodie crowds grab a tasty bite of St. Pete at festival

    Food & Dining


    After customers and staffers had gone home for the night, David Benstock made 4,500 mezzaluna stuffed with braised short rib this week. The chef-owner of Il Ritorno in St. Petersburg made them by hand, staying up until 4 a.m. rolling out dough. And on Saturday afternoon at the first St. Pete Wine & Food Festival, napped with truffle fonduta and topped with shaved truffle flown in from Italy, 4,500 didn't seem like such a crazy number. For a small restaurant like Il Ritorno, going all in for a first-time festival represents a serious vote of confidence in festival organizers Dawna Stone and Matt Dieter....

    Alba black truffles are shaved atop the short rib mezzaluna served at the IL Ritorno stand at the Grand Tasting on Saturday.
  10. Canadian poutine (or 'loaded fries,' if you're American) comes to Amalie Arena

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — The origins of poutine are murky (rural Quebec? probably in the 1950s?), and they don't get any clearer when you engage in conversation with Ryan Smolkin, the founder and CEO of Smoke's Poutinerie. The eatery debuted at Amalie Arena for Tuesday evening's preseason opener for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    The Canadian staple comes with national pride, but it's not really like haggis in Scotland or vegemite in Australia. Those culinary oddities inspire fear and queasiness beyond their borders. But poutine? Ask any college kid at 2 a.m. whether crispy fries smothered in gravy and dotted with cheese curds sounds like a good idea and they've already got their car keys out, yelling, "road trip."...

    Smoke’s Poutinerie in Amalie Arena features the Double Pork, Bar-B-Que pulled pork and double smoked bacon on fries with cheese curds. Is Tampa ready for a Canadian delicacy?
  11. Dining Planner: Skipper's Smokehouse birthday bash, St. Pete Wine & Food Festival, rum lesson at Fly Bar

    Food & Dining


    We're going to need a bigger cake. Two Tampa Bay legends celebrate major birthdays. Skipper's Smokehouse turns 35 by throwing itself a big bash Saturday. Located smack-dab in the newness that is New Tampa, it remains where to turn if you are jonesing for something that seems older than a decade or so, with an ambience of a place 10 times its age. It's Tampa's best live music venue (blues, alt rock, Tuvan throat singers, the gamut), with concerts held outdoors under the canopy of a huge, moss-festooned live oak. It has a lively 30s-and-up bar scene, a mighty fine mojito and a ramshackle restaurant serves a wonderful blackened grouper sandwich, gator nuggets and black beans....

    The Fly Bar & Restaurant’s rooftop Vice Versa event from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday is the kickoff to an occasional spirits series designed in part to educate people about a given spirit.
  12. Craft beer a man's game? Not so fast, say female brewers


    Here's how to annoy a beer expert. When she sits at the bar, offer her a blueberry wheat just because she's female.

    "Some women like it and that's fine," says Jennifer Sedillo, a Ph.D. microbiologist who runs the lab at Green Bench Brewing Co. in St. Petersburg. "But women really like porters. They like sour beers because they're more like wine. They like all different styles."

    You might stereotype a beer drinker as a white male, maybe thick around the middle, maybe with a TV remote. But the modern beer consumer is changing. Women are getting out of what Sedillo calls the "blueberry wheat ghetto." They're part of the exploding craft brewing scene, forming beer clubs and forging brewing careers....

    Women are involved professionally and socially in craft brewing. Devon Kreps, center, owns Seventh Sun Brewing Co. in Dunedin.
  13. Restaurant news: The Avenue owner to open barbecue joint next door in St. Pete


    Stephen Schrutt, owner of St. Petersburg's Avenue Eat/Drink and the soon-to-open Kings Street Food Counter on Central Avenue, has announced that he has taken over the former space of the short-lived POW pizza (Woodfired Pizza before that) at 344 First Ave. S and aims to debut a "gastro barbecue" concept.

    Schrutt has not yet named the business, but for now he says, "Owning adjoining restaurants opens unlimited possibilities, and we will do more block parties, live music and proper food and drinks." With World of Beer next door and Hofbräuhaus just west of that, it certainly cements First Avenue S as a notable party spot in downtown St. Petersburg's ever-richer dining scene....

    Stephen Schrutt has taken over the space next to his Avenue Eat/Drink in St. Petersburg.
  14. MiraBay Homebrew Club a place for testing, trading tips on beer

    Bars & Spirits


    Tom Tanner stands in the kitchen competing for the crowd's attention with Moose and Murphy, a pair of antic renaissance bulldogs. He is explaining how to make your own mash tun on the cheap using a repurposed keg. The MacGyver-ed metal receptacle is all smooth edges and shiny radiant foil insulation.

    The group of home brewers seems impressed. Most of them use an Igloo cooler version with a stainless steel false bottom and valves in order to convert the starches in crushed grain into sugars for fermentation. Price tag: $159 at the very least. Tanner's homemade contraption? A handful of Hamiltons....

    The MiraBay Homebrew Club, founded in September 2013, has more than 50 members. This multitap kegerator is a regular at meetings.
  15. Restaurant review: Clear Sky Draught Haus serving up large menu and lots of beer in Dunedin

    Food & Dining


    I reviewed it when it was the Living Room, and I liked it. I reviewed it again shortly thereafter when it became Mezze on Main. Again, liked it. Then my attentions wandered from the freestanding house a bit off the main drag where Main Street meets State Road 580. The next time I turned my attention to it, it was Clear Sky Draught Haus and had morphed into one of the most popular and happening spots in Dunedin....

    Clear Sky Draught Haus in downtown Dunedin bustles during a recent lunch service. Clear Sky offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night nibbles seven days a week.