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. Two takes on Tampa's new Studio Movie Grill dinner-movie combo


    By Steve Persall,Times Movie Critic

    Dinner and a movie is a fine idea for a date, but maybe not at the same time.

    Depends on whether film or food is more important. Movies are best enjoyed without distractions. Except for laughs and gasps, silence and stillness is golden.

    Dining is when people talk, to each other and the server, who politely talks back before shuttling to the next table. Bussing is a must. Silence and stillness isn't practical....

    The Studio Movie Grill takes the orders quickly and brings all the food before the film begins.
  2. Del Frisco's Grille gets tables ready for Tampa opening Saturday

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — A waiter unfurls a length of bright yellow string to measure that each wine glass is aligned across the expansive dining room while general manager Beth Weisman describes the precision efforts that enable Del Frisco's Grille to open its doors Saturday.

    Yes, the private dining room is still functioning as storage, but the build-out at 4010 Boy Scout Blvd. has been miraculous — including a stunning rooftop deck — commencing in the 9,000-square-foot empty MetWest International space next to Kona Grill just months ago in July....

    Del Frisco’s is the latest major restaurant to stake a claim along the centrally located, busy Boy Scout Boulevard near Tampa International Airport and International Plaza.
  3. Fine-dining spot Lauro Ristorante closes in Tampa

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — Another one bites the dust. Its tablecloths were deep fuchsia, not white, but last week's closure of Lauro Ristorante represents yet another loss for Tampa Bay's fine-dining scene.

    Lauro Medaglia could not be reached for comment, but doors are closed and the phone has been disconnected.

    A special-occasion go-to spot for 33 years in Tampa, Lauro got its start on Waters Avenue and moved to its more recent 3915 Henderson Blvd. location in 1990, relying upon the patronage of affluent residents of the Beach Park and Palma Ceia neighborhoods. Medaglia also had a Lauro Ristorante location downtown at 100 S Ashley Drive for three years....

    Lauro Ristorante, on Henderson Boulevard in Tampa. [Google Street View]
  4. Review: Pia's Trattoria only gets better through the years

    Food & Dining


    The last time I reviewed Pia's was April 2007. I know this because it was the first place I reviewed as the food critic of the Times. For that story, Times photographer Scott Keeler took a photo of red-aproned Pia Goff in front of her ochre-colored facade, two hanging baskets of geraniums framing her, a robin's-egg blue tablecloth on a nearby outdoor table. It is still one of my favorite photos ever in the paper, evocative of tiny Tuscan villages and those desultory Italian meals Diane Lane got to eat in that movie. Goff ran out of food the day that photo printed....

    Basil and Goat Cheese Panna Cotta is among an assortment of panna cottas, both savory and sweet, offered at Pia’s.
  5. One solution to Florida's wild pig problem: Eat them

    Food & Dining

    PUNTA GORDA — When life hands you nuisance pigs, make pork chops.

    And since Florida has an estimated 1 million feral pigs — the most in the country per square mile — Charlotte County rancher Keith Mann saw an opportunity to capitalize on that idea in a novel way.

    He has established a working relationship with trappers, USDA inspectors and the restaurant community to bring this new "naturally raised," "free-range," "sustainable" and "local" food source to market. Already presiding over Florida's largest bison herd at his Three Suns Ranch, Mann launched his feral pig program this spring, a win-win for homeowners, trappers and restaurant patrons alike. The only losers are the pigs....

    Hunters drag a small pig out of the Crystal River State Buffer Preserve. There is no season, no size or bag limits or restrictions on harvesting either gender. Wild pigs can be found in all 67 counties of the state.
  6. Review: Sunspot Fresh Bar in St. Petersburg is cheery, wholesome

    Food & Dining


    The 600 block of Central is a magnet for those who march to the beat of their own drum, all that percussion adding up to a heady beat. Ann Shuh, a former lawyer, took over two 1928 buildings months ago, yanking out the guts of Collective Tattoo and Gallery and replacing them with Sunspot Fresh Bar, a health-oriented lunch spot that is anchored by its own artistic whimsy.

    The walls are crowded with local artists' canvases, their work curated by Saint Paint's Derek Donnelly. Tabletops are KAPOW-ed with comic book-style pop art and tiny animal salt and pepper shakers are different on every table....

    Sunspot Fresh Bar features artwork on the table and walls as well as  a pay-by-pound salad bar.
  7. Iconic Goody Goody restaurant returning to Tampa

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — Longtime Tampa residents get misty-eyed when you mention Goody Goody, the iconic restaurant known for its pies and bags of hamburgers "POX" — that's pickles, onions and the fabled secret sauce. On Monday restaurateur Richard Gonzmart announced he is bringing it all back in a new Goody Goody.

    "My earliest memories were the Columbia and Goody Goody. It was a big deal to go sit in your car and the lady would come up and take your order and you'd eat inside the car and listen to the radio," said Gonzmart, the Columbia Restaurant Group's fourth generation co-owner and president, who opened the acclaimed Ulele earlier this year....

    Goody Goody closed in 2005. “All I want to do is save the brand,” Richard Gonzmart says. “I feel like the caretaker.”
  8. Food from farm to table: an illuminating process


    It all started with a pig. Or, more specifically, half a pig. Jim Webster, when he was a copy editor and writer for the Tampa Bay Times, drove up to Nature Delivered, Rebecca Krassnoski's farm near Tampa, with the aim of filling up his freezer with humanely raised pork. He wasn't looking for loin, shank and belly sealed carefully on plastic-wrapped trays. He wanted to meet his live, snuffling pig. And then see what happened after that....

    Jim Webster, America Farm to Table: Simple, Delicious Recipes Celebrating Local Farmers
  9. Review: Villa Bellini brings upscale Italian to Tio Pepe space

    Food & Dining


    It's got pilasters and curved archways and marble statuary and carved fireplace mantles and complicated deco wrought-iron work. In short, the new Villa Bellini in the 1928 building that housed Tio Pepe for decades is a knockout. There's valet parking, a gracious gaggle of lovely young women at the front desk, bartenders who ask your name and politely volunteer their own, a sumptuously appointed private dining room, and the kind of chandeliers and gilded mirrors that make you think a sports coat might be in order....

    A list of Italian coffees hangs in the bar of Villa Bellini in Clearwater.
  10. Stone crab season forecast upbeat, but prices could be high

    Food & Dining

    After two years of meager harvests, the forecast for this year's stone crab catch is cautiously upbeat, though prices likely will remain high.

    Crabbers won't know until they start hauling up traps on Wednesday, the official start to the season, but Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association, pointed to the absence of crabs' two biggest nemeses: a blood disease in the crabs called hematodinium parasite triggered by red tides in the Gulf of Mexico, and tropical storm interference during the harvesting period....

Stone crab claw prices were high last year.
  11. Dough, Max & Chz and Mr. Lasagna home in on a single food in South Tampa

    Food & Dining


    In metro areas where restaurants densely stud every street, entrepreneurs have gotten tunnel vision: Serve a single food, do it right, carve a niche, plug it on social media, watch the lines grow. In New York alone, you'll find the Meatball Shop, S'Mac (mac and cheese mania), Potatopia (all spuds, all the time) and an all-rice-pudding spot called Rice to Riches.

    The Tampa Bay area, with limited pedestrian culture, has been a little slow to the trend. Often food trucks pave the way for these single-subject restaurants, foot traffic driven by come-hither Instagram shots of artisanal doughnuts or dumplings....

    At Dough, the Odd Couple takes grilled cheese to new heights, as Brie and white cheddar sidle up to roasted red peppers and baby spinach on ancient grain bread encrusted in pistachios.
  12. James Beard Foundation scholarship fundraiser draws Tampa Bay's rock star chefs

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — BT Nguyen leaned over the first plate, spreading bits of hearts of palm, mango, celery and sweet pepper on the plate, topping that with a ripe wedge of avocado and gently poached lobster, finishing the dish with a confetti of micro-herbs and passion fruit vinaigrette.

    There was no talking as 25 other chefs and sous chefs fell into line, replicating her work on 94 plates spread out in the Epicurean Hotel's stunning kitchen....

    Above, chefs at the Friends of James Beard Foundation Dinner plate food. Top right, BT Nguyen’s lobster and avocado; bottom right, smoked potato plate conceived by chef Ferrell Alvarez of the Rooster and the Till.
  13. Bern's Steak House little sister SideBern's to become Haven wine bar

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — When the doors reopen at 2208 W Morrison Ave. at the end of the year, it will no longer be SideBern's. Say hello to Haven, a midpriced wine bar restaurant.

    SideBern's opened in 1996 as the award-winning New American little sister to Bern's Steak House. The closure signals a number of things, according to executive chef Chad Johnson.

    "SideBern's had an amazing run. Jeannie (Pierola) started the process, and I did the second half, and we built a tremendous reputation. But my passions as a chef have changed and the market has changed."...

    Times files
Wine is poured at a Sidebern's event.
  14. Review: Bodaciously fresh bowls off Bayshore — that's Fresh Kitchen

    Food & Dining


    Takeout parking spots in front are for 7.5 minutes only. The restaurant closes at 9:35 p.m. What gives? They are memorable. But those 30 seconds and that five minutes are not the only things that separate the new Fresh Kitchen from so many other South Tampa restaurants.

    The latest project from Ciccio Restaurant Group, it builds on a preoccupation the guys have had for a while: healthy food, which in some years has meant crisp stir-fries or leafy green vegetables, in other years a low-carb "paleo" approach and in still others "superfoods" and cold-pressed juices. From their flagship Ciccio and Tony's to Green Lemon, Water and the rest, this group has often eschewed deep-fried appetizers and heavy sauces, choosing instead a customizable approach whereby diners select proteins, starches, some veggies and a sauce to suit their own tastes and dietary issues....

    Among the choices for bowls are coconut cauliflower, grilled broccolini, and roasted Brussels sprouts and mushrooms. Or you can choose from “chef’s specials,” the all-in-one-meal ranging from $9.50 to $12.
  15. Millennials' influence changing fine dining in Tampa Bay

    Food & Dining

    Haute is no longer hot.

    In Tampa Bay and nationally, nearly all of the exciting, high-profile restaurants to open in the past two years have been casual and moderate to mid-priced. At none of them are you required to wear a jacket. At none will you find tuxedoed waiters or red roses in crystal vases. In short, fine dining seems to be breathing its last rattly gasps.

    This demise says a great deal — some of it good, some bad — about cultural shifts in this second decade of the 21st century....

    Waiter Gilson Fernandez, 53, has been donning his tuxedo for 29 years at Donatello Italian restaurant, 232 N Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa,  Friday evening,  9/26/2014. There are roses on every table and all the waiters are dressed in tuxedoes at the 30-year-old restaurant. 
In Tampa Bay and nationally, nearly all of the exciting, high-profile restaurants to open in the past two years have been casual and moderate to mid-priced.
At none of them are you required to wear a jacket. At none will you find tuxedoed waiters or red roses in crystal vases. In short, fine dining seems to be breathing its last rattly gasps. This demise says a great deal, some of it good, some bad, about cultural shifts in this second decade of the 21st century. 
[CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]