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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. Chefs, students join to make dinner for Ryan Wells Foundation

    Food & Dining

    CLEARWATER BEACH — This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Ryan Wells Foundation's Evening with the Chefs. In a decade the foundation has awarded 75 high school students $514,000 in scholarship money and donated $283,000 to the culinary programs of Dixie Hollins High, Northeast High, Osceola High, Pinellas Technical College and Tarpon Springs High.

    It's named for Ryan Michael Wells, a Palm Harbor Eagle Scout who died at age 18 after losing control of his car on Interstate 75. He was returning from an elite summer cooking institute in North Miami, with the dream of becoming a chef. Through these annual scholarships, his family has enabled other culinary students to pursue that same dream. And on May 16 at the Sheraton Sand Key, Tampa Bay diners can get in on it, watching 11 notable local chefs joining area culinary students in a multi-course meal....

    Ryan Michael Wells was a Palm Harbor Eagle Scout who died at age 18 in 2005.
  2. Locale Market's Rajat Parr nabs second James Beard award

    Food & Dining

    Despite a dramatic uptick in notable new restaurants, the Tampa Bay area was once again shut out of what has come to be known as the Academy Awards of food. On Monday night at a ceremony presented by TV host, author and chef Alton Brown at Lyric Opera of Chicago, winners of the 2015 James Beard awards were announced. It was the first time the annual black-tie gala took place outside of New York City, something of an irony given the dominance of New York restaurants and chefs among this year's winners. The state of Florida was summarily shut out of the proceedings: Bern's Steak House, named a finalist in the Outstanding Wine Program category, lost out to A16 in San Francisco....

  3. 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....

  4. 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....

    George Tsambis and Perry Dube took over the Wine Studio and transformed it, opening the Blind Goat in March.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. ...

    Besito Mexican opened in WestShore Plaza this month next to Maggiano’s Little Italy and P.F. Chang’s.
  7. 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....

  8. 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....

    At the Gone Bananas food truck, the Banana Whip, a nondairy vegan frozen treat, comes with a biodegradable plant-based cup and spoon.
  9. 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....

    Evan and Caroline Smith of St. Petersburg dine at POW, which opened this month at 344 First Ave. S in downtown St. Petersburg.
  10. 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 CRAFT DISTILLERY | ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA, USA FLORIDA-BORN IN 2014 We produce and bottle our spirits at our distillery in St. Petersburg, Florida. We brought our collective experience in the spirits industry to start something from the ground up, creating the high-quality products we?€™d most want to drink.Our pot-distilled spirits are made batch-by-batch in small quantities, the old-fashioned way.
  11. 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.
  12. 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....

    Haven provides excellent service and food. Roasted cauliflower is topped with a goat’s milk brown butter, ham, ginger and shallot.
  13. 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. ...

    With the charcuterie plate, you can pick three, five or seven different meats and cheeses to be plated with an assortment of nuts, fruits and olives. The Pick Seven, seen here, costs $25 and comes loaded up at the Annata Wine Bar.
  14. 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.
  15. 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 burrata salad at Queens Head in St. Petersburg has stuffed handmade mozzarella, marinated tomatoes, a balsamic reduction, olive oil and toast points.