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. Tampa Bay restaurateurs share tales of customers behaving badly

    Food & Dining

    The couple's first Match.com date was not going swimmingly. Sitting at the wine bar at Clearwater's Cuvée 103, the woman seemed exceptionally, er, thirsty. Eventually she stood up and wobbled her way onto the stage where a jazz trio was getting into full swing, Florida Orchestra bass player T.J. Glowacki plucking at his valuable 19th century German bass.

    "As they were starting a tune, the woman asked the bassist for lessons and strummed his instrument," remembers Cuvée 103 owner John Zias. "The drummer turned to her and said, 'You're kind of ruining the moment,' and she said, 'I AM the moment.' "...

  2. Southern Living names Tampa's Refinery one of top 100 restaurants in the South

    Food & Dining

    The hits just keep coming for Tampa's Refinery. It's had James Beard nods, Zagat honors and gushing praise from most publications around. This week Southern Living magazine weighed in, giving the Refinery a spot in the South's top 100 restaurants. Cities like New Orleans and Charleston featured heavily while Florida nabbed only three spots (two of them projects of Michael Schwartz in Miami). The magazine suggested ordering shishito and flageolet stew with oyster mushrooms, potatoes, Chianti, tomatoes, and saffron rice grits, or else hubbard squash hoe cakes with a muscadine-chile jam. Too bad chef Greg Baker reinvents the entire menu each week at the Refinery, so these menu items may be just fleeting memories for Southern Living's restaurant scout Jennifer V. Cole. About the honor, Refinery co-owner Michelle Baker says, "Once again, we are humbled and honored! I guess we are doing something right, huh? This is a big deal for Tampa Bay. People are watching our food scene explode and they are watching closely! We have some amazing culinary talent here. I hope to see a lot more Tampa on this list next year."...

    Michelle and Greg Baker, owners of The Refinery in Tampa.
  3. Bucs fans can look forward to better food at Ray Jay (with video)

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — From fresh uniforms and a new logo to new coach Lovie Smith and exciting free agent signings, Bucs fans' hopes are soaring for this season. At a media event Wednesday, even more new goodies were unveiled at Raymond James Stadium. As part of a collaboration between the Tampa Sports Authority and concessioneer Aramark, new menu items debuted, many of them inspired by the unique tastes of Tampa....

    A freshly pressed Cuban ($11) has Black Forest ham, roasted pork and Swiss on local bread.
  4. Review: Local Public House is a new pearl in little San Antonio

    Food & Dining

    SAN ANTONIO

    Restaurant people spend their evenings watching other people have a good time. On their own nights off, usually a Monday or a Tuesday, they venture out for some good times of their own. Restaurants that are open those nights slap a little hospitality discount on food or drink, and eventually, they become informal clubhouses of off-duty restaurant folk. Curtis and Rebecca Beebe sallied forth on their nights off from Pearl in the Grove in Dade City, failing to find a clubhouse that met their specifications: a good burger, a great wine and beer list, smart snackies, and someplace casual that's just plain fun to hang out. So they built one....

    The regional cheese and charcuterie platter includes housemade pickles and pecan brittle, both noteworthy.
  5. Ulele to debut beers, local menu at Aug. 26 launch in Tampa (w/video)

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA

    On Aug. 26 one of the year's most anticipated restaurants opens its doors as Keith Sedita and the Columbia's Richard Gonzmart launch Ulele Native-Inspired Food and Spirits at the site of Tampa Heights' historic steam-powered pump house.

    Much has been made of what its $5 million budget has managed to pack in: a sprawling restaurant, rooftop bar, a beer garden and microbrewery with a beer room all adjacent to the city's new Water Works Park and recently restored Ulele Spring, one of Tampa's first sources of drinking water....

    Line chef Jose Cox prepares oysters at Ulele in the former Tampa Heights' historic steam-powered pump house ahead of their Aug. 26 opening.   Ulele will feature a sprawling restaurant, rooftop bar, beer garden with microbrewery and beer room next to the city's brand new Water Works Park.  [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  6. Review: The Oyster Bar in St. Pete is improved but true to its past

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG

    There are three components to describing an oyster: saltiness (as a rule, the colder the water, the saltier the oyster), texture (delicate, firm, etc.) and its sweetness or finish (descriptions range from metallic to cucumbery, grassy and watermelony). Kumamoto is a Pacific oyster, quite small, with a deep cup, a frilly fluted shell, buttery texture and a smooth, fruity flavor. The bigger Malpeques is an Atlantic species with a brinier, almost cucumbery flavor. Still, Florida consumers tend to prize size, having been weaned on brawny Eastern oysters from Apalachicola and elsewhere in the Gulf of Mexico....

    The former Central Avenue Oyster Bar was bought last year by Aussie Josh Cameron, who wants a more indoor-outdoor feel.
  7. Reno restaurant to open in downtown St. Petersburg next month

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg native Jon La Budde is getting back into the restaurant business. Just after Labor Day he will open Reno at 27 Fourth St. N, the former home of Primi Urban Cafe.

    "I've been in hospitality for most of my life as an owner/operator and investor, mostly with nightclubs. I had Johnny Reno's at the Pier and we had good success the first year, but then when the mayor announced he was closing it that put a nail in the coffin," he said....

    Reno, with a nod to sophisticated nostalgia, will settle into the former Primi Urban Cafe space in downtown St. Petersburg.
  8. Mazzaro's owner plans to open Annata Wine Bar this month in St. Petersburg

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kurt Cuccaro aims to open his Annata Wine Bar on Beach Drive before the end of the month, tentatively shooting for Aug. 21 or 22 as the launch date.

    In the space at 300 Beach Drive NE formerly occupied by AnnaStella Cajun Bistro, he hopes to do something that bears only a faint resemblance to Mazzaro's Italian Market, his family's longtime St. Petersburg institution....

    Kurt Cuccaro, who owns Mazzaro’s Italian Market, says the bar will have rare cheeses. The design has repurposed wine boxes and barrels.
  9. Review: Bizou Brasserie needs some serious fine tuning

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA

    After poor service, noise is the second-leading complaint about restaurants. When I started reviewing restaurants a couple decades ago, posh restaurant design included thick carpet, drapes, plush tablecloths, soft upholstered chairs, the faint tinkle of music and dapper servers who recited the evening's specials in hushed tones — all things that, incidentally, minimize ambient noise. Times have changed. Linen-free tables, high ceilings, lots of unclothed windows, loud music, wood floors and huge, boisterous bars open to the dining room have exponentially ratcheted up acoustical challenges, challenges that are often met by restaurateurs with a "whaddayagonna do" shrug....

    Bizou Brasserie, at Le Méridien in Tampa, suffers from high noise levels and high wine prices. An Educated Guess cab sells for about $15 a bottle retail but is offered at Bizou for $15 per glass.
  10. Joe Maddon helps give first taste of his much-anticipated Tampa restaurant

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — Joe Maddon spent the day watching David Price get traded to the Detroit Tigers. Michael Stewart spent the day grouper fishing with the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, at Maddon's suggestion. The former in a grape-colored polo shirt and black jeans, the latter just slightly wind-burned, the duo were serene hosts at something Tampa doesn't have much of: a one-night-only pop-up restaurant....

    Tampa Bay Rays manager and Ava partner Joe Maddon talks to other guests at the restaurant’s “pop-up” event Thursday at Buddy Brew Coffee in Tampa. Ava is scheduled to open in October.
  11. Review: At Sohkdii, go bold with spicy Laotian cuisine

    Food & Dining

    KENNETH CITY

    There are reasons there are so few Laotian restaurants in this area. Some of it is immigration patterns and demographics, and some of it is because Thai food has stolen its thunder a bit. The country just west of Laos has made a concerted effort to promote its cuisine to the world and has been largely successful in popularizing pad Thai, tom kha gai, massaman curry and such across a few continents. But it's a mistake to assume Laotian food is just the same....

    Thum mak hoong is Laotian green papaya salad, intense with fish sauce and lime, served at Sohkdii with cool wedges of green cabbage.
  12. Review: Castile at Hotel Zamora is a new culinary star in St. Pete Beach

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETE BEACH

    Restaurant chefs are often wanderers, staying in a kitchen a year or two before moving on. For this reason, reviewing restaurants gets tricky. You say glowing things about a restaurant and, poof, the chef is promptly off somewhere new. I've been watching Ted Dorsey for a while, but I took my eye off the prize seven months ago when he left Gordon Davis and Kevin Enderle's SoHo Hospitality group (Boca, Ciro's, CopperFish) to head to St. Pete Beach....

    Hotel Zamora in St. Pete Beach is home to Castile and is putting in a full rooftop bar and restaurant that will have water views on both sides.
  13. Review: Guy Harvey RumFish Grill makes a big splash in St. Pete Beach

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETE BEACH — There are those stores that are like clubs. Bass Pro Shops, Ron Jon Surf Shops, even Apple stores — yes, they sell stuff, but it's more aspirational than that. These are lifestyles on offer.

    The new Guy Harvey store in St. Pete Beach is like that. Angler-explorer-artist Harvey is more ruggedly mysterious than the Dos Equis dude, his saltwater game fish art attracting gravelly voiced Hemingway types and those who wish they were. The new Guy Harvey Outpost seems perfectly paired with the TradeWinds Beach Resort, and its restaurant, the recently launched RumFish Grill & Bar, more perfect still. ...

    Grouper Piccata with Parmesan Risotto and Spinach at RumFish Grill & Bar in St. Pete Beach.
  14. Local restaurants serve up sides of classes, paddleboarding, yoga

    Food & Dining

    you sit there, they bring you the food. Chew, swallow, pay, depart. Unless you're an exceptionally vigorous chewer, you're not breaking a sweat the whole evening. It's why most of us go out to eat: so we don't have to do the work. But when you think about it, it's a little passive. For you overachievers, what if I said there are restaurants out there where you can eat and learn to do something new, develop a skill, try out a fresh hobby? In a way, you could think about these restaurants as mini summer camps for grownups. But camp without the lanyardmaking or annoying color wars, and where the food is bound to be better....

    You can learn Italian and enjoy a meal with Roberto Alvarez.
  15. Visit Tallahassee for fine and funky food and lodging (and football)

    Florida

    TALLAHASSEE — Boiled p-nuts. Sometimes "boiled" is spelled wrong, too. There are stands that dot the back roads of the rural Florida Panhandle, fronted by hand-lettered signs that tout the glories of the green peanut. The outskirts of Tallahassee are P-nut Central, the stands' proprietors hunkered over burners at the back of rattletrap trucks in the hot sun. So you stop.

    The fresh green nuts are boiled in the shell for several hours, then a huge amount of salt is added to the water and the whole mess is boiled some more. The peanuts sit in the brine until a customer pulls up, when they are drained and sold to enthusiasts by the quart at the road's shoulder. Soft, salty and a little greasy, they are the perfect foil for cheap light beer. You eat them warm, right away, as you pull out from the p-nut stand, the shells forming a pesky pile in the front seat....

    Lunchtime visitors relax on the porch of Bradley’s Country Store.