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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. This Mother's Day, present a perfect breakfast in bed

    Cooking

    When you broach the subject of breakfast in bed with just about anyone, folks are wont to sigh and get a little moony-eyed recalling the early-morning nourishment they've enjoyed while prone. It's a kindness as rare as hen's teeth.

    It can be cereal sloshing on a teetery tray, or just a mug of coffee and buttered toast — either way it sends a message of love. Our advice is to keep it classic but always include a dab of color (a bowl of fruit? a single fresh flower?) and prepare something savory and something sweet to gently wake up all of your loved one's senses. Just in time for Mother's Day, here are some strategies for expertly feeding someone still snuggled in the sheets....

  2. Restaurant review: Tampa's Blind Goat a hip sip spot for the in-the-know

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA

    During Prohibition, rough, working-class speakeasies were sometimes referred to as Blind Pigs or Blind Tigers (not sure which was the tougher kind of establishment, but I'm going tiger). The operator of the saloon would levy a cover charge for showing customers an animal attraction and then serve "complimentary" alcoholic refreshments. Crafty, eh?

    Siegfried & Roy hung up their whips more than a decade ago, so cocktails-and-fierce-mammals aren't as seamless a marriage these days. Still, we have a steady nostalgia for Prohibition: classic cocktails, secret knocks, the whole nine yards. A couple of years back Sharon Stewart debuted the Wine Studio in a former 1970s-era dentist office with a groovy porte-cochere. It was all low-slung couches and classic black-and-white movies playing against one wall. It didn't last, and George Tsambis and Perry Dube, FSU college buddies, took over in January. They unveiled the Blind Goat Food and Drink Co. in March, a clear homage to Prohibition-era speakeasies....

    The Blind Goat Food and Drink Co. pays homage to Prohibition-era speakeasies.
  3. Review: Pom Pom's in St. Pete has promise but needs to refine recipes

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Pom Moongauklang is a sandwich virtuoso in Orlando. Her Pom Pom's Teahouse & Sandwicheria has been a longtime hipster destination, her nearby Tako Cheena just as packed, both of them known for their gutsy, often wacky juxtapositions of East-West ingredients. For almost a year there was word that franchise rights for a second location had been purchased by retired Orange County deputy Tom Woodard, who aimed to open his colorful boho hangout in a former gas station in the bustling Grand Central District of St. Petersburg....

    A veggie sandwich with tomato, alfalfa sprouts, cucumber, red onions, advocado, cream cheese and Thousand Island dressing is one of the selections available at Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria.
  4. Review: Besito Mexican in Tampa a solid, date-worthy Mexican restaurant

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA

    It means "little kiss" in Spanish, and Besito Mexican is certainly seasoned restaurateur Chris Sullivan's latest smooch to the Tampa Bay area. The Outback Steakhouse founder debuted the wine bar Carmel Cafe (now Carmel Kitchen) a few years back, but it wasn't until he ran across John Tunney's "polished casual" Mexican concept, with two locations in Long Island and one in Hartford, Conn., that he took the plunge with an all-new cuisine. Opened in April, this newcomer suits the space, fits a new niche and, perhaps best of all, provides a no-brainer for this year's Cinco de Mayo festivities. ...

    Tacos de Camarones with crispy shrimp, shredded romaine lettuce, pico de gallo, chipotle cream salsa, cilantro and queso fresco are on the menu at Besito Mexican in Tampa.
  5. A roundup of new picture books for children

    Books

    Goodnight Already!

    By Jory John and Benji Davies

    Harper, $17.99; ages 4-8

    "Hey, I'm bored. Want to hang out?" And so it begins, the push and pull between wide-awake Duck and time-to-(yawn)-hibernate Bear. It's an interspecies example of why fences make good neighbors. In Jory John's story, Duck (who looks a bit like the Aflac duck) wants to play cards, borrow a cup of sugar — anything to keep Bear from packing it in for the night. Illustrator Benji Davies renders Duck's pages in all sunny yellows and vibrant reds; Bear's are inky with bruise-colored shadows and soft blue sheets. It's all in good fun, a lively call-and-response book to read aloud to prereaders, with the most charming image of Duck sporting multiple Band-Aids: "I stubbed my beak." And in the end? Duck succumbs to the sandman while Bear is left baking insomniac cookies....

  6. For Earth Day, Tampa Bay food businesses that are doing their part

    Food & Dining

    When it started in 1970, Earth Day was part antiwar protest, part nascent environmental worries and part hippie woo-woo. As we near 7 billion people on the planet, April 22 for many people has become a day to step back and think about the impact all those lives have on the planet. The biggest piece of this metaphorical pie is our need to eat food: the animals we raise to eat, the transportation of foodstuffs and supplies, deforestation and the destruction of habitat in the name of agriculture. • A number of Tampa Bay restaurants and food businesses are adopting different strategies for being more environmentally cognizant. Some fit neatly into the "renew-reuse-recycle" paradigm and others entail novel collaborations with other businesses. In honor of Earth Day, here are a few notable examples....

    Ulele and 3 Daughters Brewing send trailers full of their spent craft beer grain to Jim Strickland’s cattle ranch. The cows run toward the trailer when they smell the grain. Later, the beef from those cows goes to Ulele in the form of steaks.
  7. Review: St. Petersburg's POW debuts pizza and wings next to World of Beer

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Look up, and vintage black-and-white episodes of Batman and Robin play on a sextet of old-timey television screens. Over there is an oversized pop art mural of Salvador Dalí as costumed superhero (that mustache is surprisingly intimidating when accompanied by a mask). The banquettes feature comic book pop art. In short, POW, the new project of Philippe Theodore, is a hoot to look at. Opened last month in the space vacated by Wood Fired Pizza in October, it hopes to do what Wood Fired didn't manage: establish a niche in the dense restaurant community of downtown St. Petersburg, working synergistically with the beer-no-food World of Beer next door....

    POW recently opened in the former Wood Fired Pizza spot next to World of Beer in downtown St. Petersburg. The Hawaiian BBQ Pizza, with pulled pork, smoked Gouda, pineapple, grilled onion and cilantro, is among the offerings.
  8. Florida's crop of new craft distilleries stands ready to sell more liquor

    Bars & Spirits

    Feeling thirsty? It's looking as if Florida drinkers may have something to celebrate when a measure moving through the Legislature loosens purchase restrictions at craft breweries.

    But it's not just about beer. If the legislation passes, it will also help a growing number of Florida micro-distilleries, a new class of independent liquormakers popping up from St. Petersburg to Dunedin and beyond....

    St. Petersburg Distillery  will first unveil four products in the Old St. Pete line - vodka, gin, whiskey and rum - as well as Tippler's, an orange cordial liqueur made of the peel and juice of Florida temple oranges, said Daniel Undhammar, director of product development. [St. Petersburg Craft Distillery]
  9. Iconic Goody Goody restaurant to reopen in Hyde Park Village

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — After months of speculation, the location of the soon-to-be-resurrected Goody Goody — the iconic restaurant known for its pies and bags of hamburgers "POX" with pickles, onions and the fabled secret sauce — has been announced.

    This fall, Goody Goody will rise in Hyde Park Village at 1601 W Swann Ave. on the corner of Swann and South Dakota avenues on the same block as CinéBistro....

    Richard Gonzmart in the driver seat of the Goody Goody truck.
  10. Review: Haven, in SideBern's old spot, sets high bar from the start

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA

    David Laxer reached way back when naming Haven, alluding to his parents' long-ago Beer Haven in what is now the Bordeaux Room of Bern's Steak House. This homage to Gert and Bern Laxer makes one wonder what the family patriarch would think of this newcomer, which opened in March at the site of SideBern's. It's certainly less old-school fancy than Bern's, and less expensive than SideBern's, but I'm guessing Bern Laxer, who died in 2002, would be over-the-moon in love with the new project. As am I....

    Monkfish Bourguignon with mushroom, root vegetables, lardons, red wine emulsion served at Haven on Friday, April 10, 2015. Haven a new restaurant with a vast collection of 300 bourbons and over 40 wines both domestic and imported is located on 2208 West Morrison Avenue in Tampa, on April 9, 2015.
  11. Tampa's Haven debuts bay area's most ambitious cheese program

    Food & Dining

    Cheese and charcuterie plates have cropped up all over the Tampa Bay area recently, from Annata Wine Bar and Locale Market in St. Petersburg to Cru Cellars and Bianchi's Enoteca in Tampa. But Haven, which debuted in March in the spot vacated in June 2014 by SideBern's, represents the most ambitious cheese program in our area to date.

    While this new little sibling to Bern's Steak House is more casual, with a lower price point than SideBern's, its aspirations are huge. The restaurant, at 2208 W Morrison Ave., Tampa, boasts a 2,500-bottle wine cellar and a list of more than 300 bourbons. But perhaps its most impressive element is a powerful olfactory wallop: a cheese cave that can accommodate 120 different kinds of cheeses at various stages of ripeness. ...

    The $47 cheesemonger plate comes with 18 cheeses. The cheese list is divided into sections, including “mild and mellow” and “strong.”
  12. Food Network star Robert Irvine talks about his 'unique' live show coming to St. Petersburg

    Cooking

    ST. PETERSBURG — Food Network star Robert Irvine swoops into the Mahaffey on April 19 for one evening of his multimedia, multisensory cooking demo/boot camp.

    Part motivational speaker, part muscle-bound "fixer," the host of Dinner: Impossible, Worst Cooks in America, Restaurant: Impossible and Restaurant Express travels 345 days a year by his own count, touching down to save a failing restaurant or cook dinner for 1,000 using only Slim Jims and dented cans of tahini. That's hyperbole, but some of his challenges indeed seem to verge on the impossible. We spoke with him by phone from Las Vegas recently to discuss his upcoming live show....

    Robert Irvine is host of Dinner: Impossible, Worst Cooks in America, Restaurant: Impossible and Restaurant Express.
  13. Review: Queens Head continues its reign with refreshed menu

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Successful long-standing restaurants often don't get the ink they deserve. They continue to admirably orchestrate dozens of moving parts, keep up with trends and establish a coherent identity while food critics are gadflying about looking for the flavor of the week. About the only time they get a fresh review is if there's a shakeup in the kitchen.

    Well, my intention was to re-review the Queens Head before I even knew about new chef Stephen Montalvo and his menu revamping. I've been a fan of Darren Conner and Paul Smith's adorable, quirky Kenwood original since it debuted in 2009, stopping in for a couple of meals recently that were even better than I remembered from back in the days of original chef Chris Greer....

    The interior of Queen’s Head, photographed on April 3rd, 2015. Queen’s Head is located at 2501 Central Ave in St. Petersburg.


MONICA HERNDON | Times
  14. Review: Bull Grill Brazilian Steakhouse is a carnivore's paradise

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA

    You start out. Your tabletop paper medallion is on green: "Bring it on, let the meat parade begin." Soon, you get nervous. They're bringing around the lombinho again, the chicken hearts and the bacon-wrapped beef. You're getting sweaty, a meat fog clouding your judgment. That's it, you flip your medallion to red: "No, thanks. Make it stop. Não, as they say in Portuguese." And so it goes at a Brazilian churrascaria (that's shoo-HOSS-ka-REE-ah)....

    Brazilian meat is cooked on skewers at Bull Grill Brazilian Steakhouse.
  15. 5 best places to get a hot dog in Tampa Bay

    Food & Dining

    The Godzilla vs. King Kong of dogs is Nathan's versus Vienna. But then you've got to get into the toppings. In New York? A proper dog comes with steamed onions and pale, deli-style yellow mustard. In Kansas City, it's melted Swiss and kraut; Atlanta dogs get a coleslaw mantle. Whatever your frankfurter fantasies, here are some of Tampa Bay's best hot dog spots.

    Mel's Hot Dogs...

    Mel’s Hot Dogs, near Busch Gardens in Tampa, has been serving customers since 1973.