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. 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.
  2. 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....

    Some Like It Hot features spicy sriracha bread filled with melted Swiss, provolone,  pepper jack and cheddar.
  3. 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....

     Chef BT Nguyen makes some final adjustments to her lobster and avocado with sweet peppers, mango, celery, palm hearts, mint, cilantro and passion fruit vinaigrette.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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....

    David Rojas, a waiter at Donatello Italian Restaurant since 1988, takes orders on a Friday night last month at the fine dining establishment at 232 N Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa. High-end meals are in decline in favor of more casual dining.
  7. Review: Yard of Ale GastroPub is a winner by a mile

    Food & Dining


    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....

    Previous concepts in this space have felt too cavernous, but Yard of Ale has split things up, including the barrel room where members of the Cafe Racers Club of Clearwater met recently.
  8. Fritters: battered, fried and fit for any gathering


    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....

    A basket of freshly fried fritters is sure to be welcome when friends gather. Above are  Spicy Carrot Beignets.
  9. Review: Alma in Madeira Beach needs fresh approach

    Food & Dining


    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.
  10. 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....

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

    Food & Dining


    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. ...

    The New Orleans-inspired Roux took advantage of the recently renovated plaza at 4205 S MacDill Ave. to create a charming and moody restaurant. The name “roux” refers to the flour and butter thickener that starts so many Cajun dishes. But it also alludes to dishes from Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga. Tampa’s Roux combines the best of all these places in their French Quarter-themed restaurant.
  12. Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show displays hospitality products


    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....

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

    Food & Dining


    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....

    It’s going to remind you of the last Shells in St. Pete Beach: There’s a robust early-bird contingent, a surprisingly multi-ethnic set of regulars and a fair number of casually clad date-night couples.
  14. Review: Annata Wine Bar on Beach Drive offers superb sips, nibbles

    Food & Dining


    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). ...

    Sauteed Wild Mushrooms, Heirloom Tomatoes, Ricotta, Quail Egg and Truffle Oil is served on flatbread. You get four slices for $15 at Annata.
  15. Review: Ulele brings Old Florida style, substance to Tampa waterfront

    Food & Dining


    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....

    Florida Jumpers are crispy fried frog legs with sherry garlic aioli.