Make us your home page

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. After 37 years, waitress Ruth Croudy is retiring from Munch's

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — Larry Munch bought a magical spray this year at the Florida State Fair that was supposed to cure foot pain. No dice. After 37 years, Ruth Croudy will wait on her last table Sunday at Munch's Restaurant and Sundries. She was going to try to stick it out until April or May, but her feet are killing her.

    In 1978, Ruth, Virley, Ines and the rest of the girls wore orange plaid polyester pants and smocks, uniforms that were hot and didn't breathe. The wage was 85 cents an hour and $40 in tips was a good day....

    Ruth Croudy, 63, gives a playful punch to customer Buzz Torrey, as his wife, Priscilla, laughs, at Munch’s in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. Croudy is retiring after 37 years of taking diners’ orders at the iconic restaurant.
  2. Yelp suit on reviews stirs the pot for local restaurateurs


    Don Arvin, co-owner of St. Petersburg's Casita Taqueria, routinely combs through his online reviews.

    "As owners we all talk about it, and most of us take our reviews very seriously."

    But these sites are not all created equally, he says. TripAdvisor draws reviewers who are more worldly and well-traveled; Google reviewers tend to be younger people who are highly web savvy. Rewards Network reviews and OpenTable reviews are reliably legitimate because they can only be written by people who have actually visited the restaurant (OpenTable reviews are only for restaurants that accept reservations). He thinks Urbanspoon has fallen off a bit, the Myspace of review sites. And then there's Yelp, the 900-pound gorilla of online restaurant reviews where, he says, a bad review may be written by a disgruntled ex-employee and a good review by the chef's mom....

    Don Arvin, co-owner of St. Petersburg’s Casita Taqueria, says a bad review on Yelp! may be written by a disgruntled ex-employee and a good review by the chef’s mom. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
  3. Cooking for one (or two) means thinking about storage, preparation, selection


    Consider it one of life's mysteries: If 60 percent of American households consist of one or two people, why are zucchini sold in packages of four?

    Cooking for a small household is fraught with challenges. Perhaps most vexing is how to make it economically feasible, time-effective and healthful all at the same time.

    Consequently, singles, empty-nesters and other tiny households may seesaw between takeout, prepared frozen meals and leaning collectively over a saucepan and taking turns with the fork....

    Ideally, you can shop for vegetables in whatever amounts you need, but if what you want is prepackaged, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask your grocer to break up the package so you can buy only what you need. Your purchasing mantra should be “no waste.”
  4. Hottest restaurant newcomers at Sundial in St. Petersburg off to ambitious start

    Food & Dining


    At the end, BayWalk's restaurants had dwindled to a few stalwarts. There were spectacular failures like Dan Marino's, slow deaths like Johnny Rockets and even serendipitous defections like Gratzzi, which has clearly found its groove a few blocks south of the now-reinvented Sundial restaurant/shopping complex. • Rumors swirled for months about what the new dining landscape would look like, always with murmurs about celebrity chefs, nationally known names and ambitious destination restaurants. The reality is interesting, really three legs of a stool: a super-intimate celebrity chef-driven farm-to-table eight-seater, a nationally known business-friendly steak house and a second outpost of a successful upscale seafooder from Naples. It's too early to say whether that stool will wobble, but let's take a first look at St. Petersburg's hottest newcomers....

    A dessert of German chocolate cake with mousse, devil’s food and coconut cream, from Michael Mina’s corporate pastry chef Lincoln Carson, caps off a recent meal at FarmTable Kitchen.
  5. Teas join the cocktail hour fun

    Bars & Spirits

    Darjeeling and Earl Grey: They conjure images of crustless cucumber sandwiches, quilted cozies that look like pope hats and delicate bone china cups wielded by the dowager countess on Downton Abbey. Tea comes with bag(gage), but in the past couple of years it has taken a steep turn (my last tea pun, promise), repurposed as an ingredient in cutting-edge mixology. It shouldn't come as a surprise. Smoky, floral, bitter — the descriptors for brewed tea are often similar to those for liquors....

    Berry Bliss Champagne Cocktail
  6. Tampa's Greg Baker, Bern's Steak House score James Beard semifinalist nods

    Food & Dining

    Greg Baker of Tampa's Refinery and the new Fodder & Shine was once again Tampa Bay's best hope, scoring his fourth James Beard Foundation semifinalist nod for Best Chef: South (the Refinery received a nomination in 2011 for Best New Restaurant in the United States). Bern's Steak House also picked up a semifinalist nomination for Outstanding Wine Program (last year it had a nomination for Outstanding Restaurant). Otherwise the Tampa Bay area was shut out of this year's James Beards. Florida had zero contenders in the big categories (Best New Restaurant, Outstanding Restaurant, Outstanding Chef, etc.) although Locale Market co-owner Michael Mina's nomination for Outstanding Restaurateur could technically be feather in St. Pete's cap. Despite a paltry Florida presence overall, there is one bit of hopefulness: In previous years New Orleans stomped Florida in the regional "South" category. This year New Orleans nabbed five nominations and Florida boasted nine. For the full list of semifinalists, visit — Laura Reiley, Times food critic...

    Greg Baker of Tampa's Refinery and the new Fodder & Shine scored his fourth James Beard Foundation semifinalist nod for Best Chef: South. [AUSTIN ANTHONY   |   Times (2013)]
  7. Three sophisticated restaurants up the ante in Pasco County

    Food & Dining


    These Pasco County towns have seldom been considered dining destinations. There are outliers like the lovely Zen Forrest or the see-and-be-seen Grille 54, but the communities have been underserved by ambitious, pushing-the-envelope kinds of places. Until now. A trio of newcomers has upped the ante and given Pasco diners a reason to put on the dog and warn the babysitter it may be a late one....

    Brix 33 fine wines and bistro is a sophisticated wine bar with an attached wine shop where the corkage fee is only $10. Patrons can also purchase credits for the WineStation, enabling them to sample a variety of wines in smaller portions.
  8. Where to go in Tampa Bay for Mardi Gras eats, beads and more

    Food & Dining

    A short French lesson: Mardi is Tuesday, and if you're gras you're a little chubs. Put them together and we're talking Fat Tuesday, the annual oh-geez-it's-almost-Ash-Wednesday frenzy of eating, drinking and Liberace-level bead wearing. Tampa Bay has a number of eminently reasonable places for pre-Lenten escapades.

    Ricky P's is letting the good times roll with free king cake accompanying meals all day (don't gobble; it's bad luck to choke on the baby), and live blues, jazz and roots music by T-Bone Hamilton from 6 to 10 p.m. The restaurant is cooking up smoked boudin flown in from Krotz Springs, La. (a town of 1,200 with about a mile of notable boudin in its midst), and offering crawfish boil chowder, fried alligator bites and Abida Mardi Gras bock (like a German maibock only with more purple-and-gold Carnival ruckus). 1113 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 821-4061. ...

    Jay’s Marketplace is offering authentic muffulettas for Fat Tuesday, with round Leidenheimer breads imported from New Orleans and the celebrated house olive salad.
  9. 18 new restaurants opening in St. Petersburg: Urban Comfort, Pom Pom's, JusThai, more

    Food & Dining


    St. Petersburg restaurants have reported monster numbers for high season already, with low gas prices, a more robust economy and astoundingly lousy weather elsewhere contributing to a noticeable uptick in tourist numbers and even the frequency with which locals eat out. In short, business is booming for St. Pete restaurants, both downtown and along the growing Fourth Street N business corridor. In the past couple months we've seen the debut of Noble Crust, Cali Tacos, Sloppy Pelican, Station House, Locale Market and Engine Rose, as well as new bars such as Sawgrass Tiki Bar (relocated from Tarpon Springs) and Alvin's Lounge. The next couple months are poised for a further avalanche of St. Petersburg newcomers....

     Fresh Kitchen, the second after this South Tampa location, in St. Pete.
  10. Celebrity chef named for Busch Gardens' inaugural Food & Wine Festival

    Food & Dining

    Norman Van Aken, one of Florida's best-known chefs often described as the "Father of New World Cuisine," has signed on to appear in the opening weekend of Busch Gardens' inaugural Food & Wine Festival on March 7 and 8. The chef of Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando, a James Beard finalist for Best Restaurant in America, will make appearances throughout the festival grounds and will sign his six cookbooks March 7. The festival runs through April 26 and includes sample-size tastings of food and spirits as well as live concerts every event day on Gwazi Field. The festival is included with admission and right now Florida residents can get a $95 Fun Card with a free Adventure Island pass, both good through Dec. 31. Check for schedule and details. — Laura Reiley, Times food critic...

    Award-winning chef Norman Van Aken will be appearing at Busch Gardens on the first weekend of the park's inaugural Food & Wine Festival, which runs March7-April 26. Busch Gardens Tampa
  11. Cigar City selling to Anheuser-Busch? Not likely, owner says


    TAMPA — It's a tempest in a beer can. At the end of 2014, Anheuser-Busch InBev purchased 10 Barrel Brewing Co. of Bend, Ore. In January, it announced it was purchasing Seattle-based Elysian Brewing Co. And now Anheuser-Busch, the world's largest brewer with 25 percent global market share, is sniffing around Tampa's Cigar City Brewing.

    Joey Redner, the founder and owner of Cigar City, says yes, he took a meeting. But he says local beer drinkers shouldn't be worried....

    Joey Redner says Cigar City has been approached by hundreds of companies.
  12. Are you dateable? Let's check your fridge


    Cupid doing you wrong? John Stonehill says the key to finding Mr. or Ms. Right is this: Check their fridge. Daters sneakily upload photos of would-be significant others' refrigerator contents and he dissects their dateability on This self-proclaimed refrigerator dating expert who spent a dozen years in media and men's lifestyle publications says, "The brands we buy reveal so much about who we are. When I see a brand in someone's fridge I start drawing these concentric circles."...

    Picture of Tampa Bay Times staffer Brittany Volk's fridge for analysis from John Stonehill of [BRITTANY VOLK | Times]
  13. Are you dateable? Let's check your fridge


    Cupid doing you wrong? John Stonehill says the key to finding Mr. or Ms. Right is this: Check their fridge. Daters sneakily upload photos of would-be significant others' refrigerator contents and he dissects their dateability on This self-proclaimed refrigerator dating expert who spent a dozen years in media and men's lifestyle publications says, "The brands we buy reveal so much about who we are. When I see a brand in someone's fridge I start drawing these concentric circles."...

    Times staffer Brittany Volk’s refrigerator contents were analyzed by John Stonehill of The result: Brittany is well-rounded and gets around — to different stores.
  14. No Valentine's Day reservations? Try these five Tampa Bay restaurants

    Food & Dining

    If Valentine's Day sneaked up on you this year, there's still time to nab that Whitman's sampler, jewelry, lingerie or a bouquet of roses from one of those guys who sets up a stand by the side of the road for just this emergency. But in other arenas, you're out of luck. When the busiest restaurant day of the year falls on the busiest restaurant night of the week, it means sellout crowds. The Tampa Bay area's most romantic restaurants are already booked. But all is not lost. Here are a handful of ideas for where there might still be spots for you and your sweetie. Laura Reiley, Times food critic...

    Diners at Orlando based 4 Rivers Smokehouse, Tampa, select their food cafeteria style, 12/31/14.
  15. Restaurant review: Noble Crust doing smart Italian-Southern fusion

    Food & Dining


    We watched it go up: Fourth Street N's decrepit Hideaway bar was gutted, knocked down to its 1920s skeleton, built up with a tiara of girders, a sleek surface of wooden slats and finally a glamorous 800-square-foot wrap patio with a retractable roof. It sits askew on its lot, at an odd angle to the busy street. And in a way this off-kilterness is metaphoric. The sign went up: Noble Crust. So, another pizza place on Fourth Street N? Not exactly. It's a novel kind of fusion, where rustic Italian meets gutsy Southern....

    The sweet potato ravioli at Noble Pizza in St. Petersburg has sage, brown butter and pecans.