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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. Restaurant review: UNION72 has barbecue ideas from all corners of the planet but needs to work on basics

    Food & Dining

    WESLEY CHAPEL

    Wesley Chapel's restaurant scene has witnessed enormous growth in recent years, both at the Shops at Wiregrass and Tampa Premium Outlets — some chains, some independents and some independents that aim to be prototypes for chains.

    UNION72 is in this last category. Jeff Martin and Bharat Chhabria of the Brass Tap and their pit master Geoff Zukosky have a novel idea. In an attractive, spare, quick-serve environment, they pull together spins on barbecue from all corners of the planet. Beyond the obvious (Memphis, Kansas City, the Carolinas, St. Louis, etc.), great barbecue interpretations emanate from parts of Southeast Asia, Argentina and Brazil, Mexico and elsewhere. It's about appropriately accessorizing....

    From left are UNION72 owner Jeff Martin, pit master Geoff Zukosky and general manager John Hanley.
  2. St. Pete Beach restaurant creates huuuge Trump Tower Burger for inauguration month

    Food & Dining

    Regardless of what emotions course through you about the big day on Jan. 20, here's one way to celebrate or drown your sorrows (while seriously messing up those resolutions). In the spirit of the presidential inauguration, Boulevard Burgers & Tap House on St. Pete Beach has created the Trump Tower Burger. Crafted to capture the traits of Donald Trump and his empire, this burger stacks double patties for Trump Tower's imposing height, onion straws that simulate Trump's famous wispy locks and good old American cheese ("make American cheese great again")....

     Boulevard Burgers & Tap House in St. Pete Beach created the Trump Tower Burger available for the month of January. (Courtesy of Boulevard Burgers & Tap House)
  3. Dining Planner: New Year's food resolutions

    Food & Dining

    NEW YEAR: NEW RESOLVE

    I vow to do less of this, more of that, and that over there? It's out entirely. By about March 1, we only have a vague memory of the details of our resolutions, but for now it's full steam ahead. Here are some events this week likely to keep you on the straight and narrow.

    Let's start with some brisk walking at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, right, on Saturday at 11 a.m. The resolution: I will start foraging. There's food all around us; we just need to know what's edible and what will kill us. A guide will lead you on an Edible Wilds Walk through this unspoiled nature park featuring 3 miles of trails and boardwalks on 245 acres along the shores of Lake Maggiore. For $3, get a better handle on the food, medicine and tools all around us and learn to identify what's growing and their most common uses. Register at the Boyd Hill Environmental Education Center, 1101 Country Club Way S, St. Petersburg. (727) 893-7326. ...

    Visitors hike along a trail near Lake Maggiore, St. Petersburg, April 23, 2014 in the Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.  City Council member Amy Foster is asking the council to add additional protection for Boyd Hill Nature Preserve by officially categorizing it as a preserve.
  4. Chicken wings and whiskey: College Football Championship tailgating taste test

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — What goes with Dewar's scotch and equally well with Maker's Mark bourbon? Chicken nuggets, evidently. Tailgating, a pastime that has spawned cookbooks, outlandish mobile rigs and a whole lot of competitive zeal, did not reach its culinary effulgence in the parking lot of Raymond James on Monday afternoon before the College Football National Championship.

    Fried chicken, chicken nuggets and a flotilla of Chick-fil-A bags — that was a dominant idiom, but I noshed my way through some high points nonetheless....

    Fans from South Carolina tailgate at the College Football Playoff National Championship game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Photo by Christopher Spata.
  5. Restaurant review: Little Lamb Gastropub in Clearwater impresses with bold flavors, edgy atmosphere and ambitious desserts

    Food & Dining

    CLEARWATER

    Gastropub is one of those words we're still a little iffy on. Does it mean fancy food in an easygoing setting, and with a whole lot of craft beer? Or does it somehow signal a drinking joint with suspiciously delicious meats?

    James Renew isn't too hung up on a narrow definition: "It means elevated food served in a casual, public house-type atmosphere."

    In December, he opened the Little Lamb Gastropub in the space that used to be Laziz Indian. It's an unlikely strip mall spot for an edgy, ambitious restaurant with a spare, big-city aesthetic. Most recently at high-end properties in Las Vegas and Sydney, Australia, chef Renew thought it was time his two little girls, Lily and Lila (they are the inspiration for the alliterative Ls in the name), experienced the comforts of suburban American life....

    Beef tartare, prepared with tenderloin, cured duck egg, beet, sunchoke and chive, is on the menu.
  6. Dining Planner: Looking for a low-key NYE destination? Here are 6 new spots

    Food & Dining

    Our office Christmas tree was festooned with pictures of all the beloved celebrities who died in 2016. We're a gallows-humor lot, but this year has been bumpy for many. Maybe you don't feel like whoop-di-whooping it this year with free-flowing champagne. For those of you who feel like taking the frenzy level down a few notches, here are six restaurants that opened this year where you can ring in the new year without so much fuss, with all serving regular menus during regular hours....

    The filet with asparagus and a cabernet reduction at Sacred Pepper
  7. Restaurant review: Proper brings more barbecue, and other Southern fare, to downtown St. Petersburg

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG

    The people who seem to win at Monopoly don't get distracted by Baltic Avenue, the Short Line or whatever their thimble falls on. They buy up a block and start crowding it with houses and hotels. This is how they crush their enemies and form a fat stack of orange $500 bills.

    We do not know if Stephen Schrutt is a titan at Monopoly, but we do know that he has undertaken a similar strategy. Five years ago he opened the burger-centric Avenue, his anchor on First Avenue S. Then he turned his sights to Kings Street Food Counter, a hipster-retro diner in the 900 block of Central (okay, maybe he got a little Baltic Avenue with this one, but still a good place). Then, several weeks ago, after an epically long renovation, he unveiled Proper Kitchen & Cocktails right next door to the Avenue. And any day he opens Park & Rec in the space that until recently was World of Beer. That's essentially three restaurants in a row, each with its own discrete identity....

    The Meat Sampler Platter at Proper Kitchen & Cocktails features brisket, pulled pork and sausage. The list of sides includes braised greens, corn bread and slaw.
  8. Restaurant review: Iberian Rooster introduces colonial Portuguese fusion dishes to St. Petersburg

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Colonial Portuguese fusion. That's a lot to unpack right there.

    Some history: Portugal was really the first colonial superpower, sailors zipping around the coast of Africa and the Atlantic archipelagos in search of speedy spice routes. That was in the early 1400s. Vasco da Gama landed in India at the end of that century, followed swiftly by Pedro Álvares Cabral stepping off his ship in Brazil. Mozambique, Zanzibar, Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, Goa on the west coast of India, Malacca, Portuguese Timor, Macau, etc....

    The Hotchee Dog, a beef frank with mashed potato, corn niblets, beef chili, shreds of cheddar, crispy shoestring potatoes and a sunny-side up egg, is served on a house hoagie roll.
  9. Farm to Fable: Bondi's office investigating restaurant claims, state stepping up inspections

    Food & Dining

    The investigators started showing up in May and June.

    At Turkey Hill Farm in Tallahassee, Louise Divine grows fruits and vegetables, ginger and turmeric, sugar cane and elephant garlic, lettuces in the winter. When the man arrived at the farm, they sat on the porch for an hour or so and talked. Which restaurants bought her produce? Which restaurants said they did, but really didn't?

    "He said it wasn't about enforcement or policing," Divine said. "He said, 'Our boss wants to find out if this is a problem.' "...

    A mix of seafood was on display at Florida's Fine Food at the 35th annual John's Pass Seafood and Music Festival in Madeira Beach. But not much of the seafood came from local waters. It's difficult to police the claims about the seafood at Florida festivals, officials say.  SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
  10. Dining Planner: Ugly sweater party, 'Nutcracker' tea and other holiday goodies

    Food & Dining

    Food trucks: Holiday cheer

    Got a suitably hideous holiday sweater? Don we now our gay apparel and head to the Food Trucks Around Town: Eat, Drink and Be Ugly event at 6 p.m. Friday at the Port of St. Petersburg. Enjoy an evening of food truck dining that also has waterfront and indoor air-conditioned seating with live music. Plus, there will be a visit from Santa. Admission is free; food individually priced (but use extra napkins to protect your ugly sweater). 250 Eighth Ave. SE, St. Petersburg....

    If you’re planning to head to the Straz to see the iconic Nutcracker on Sunday, consider making a day of it because Maestro’ s will be offering a Land of the Sweets celebration.
  11. Restaurant review: Father of Florida cuisine Norman Van Aken brings signature flair to 1921 in Mount Dora

    Food & Dining

    MOUNT DORA

    The first time I interviewed Norman Van Aken my hand cramped up.

    Despite the claw, I was in awe: The 65-year-old chef is one of the fathers of Floridian cuisine — along with his South Florida "Mango Gang" of Allen Susser, Douglas Rodriguez and Mark Militello. Or, take your pick, one of the three amigos of modern American cuisine with Emeril Lagasse and the late Charlie Trotter. During our interview, he was articulate and thoughtful, with a bird's-eye view of the shifting culinary landscape....

    Holiday lights add a glow to 1921 by Norman Van Aken in Mount Dora. The newest venture by the James Beard award-winning chef is situated in a 1921 building across from the Modernism Museum.
  12. Take a food tour of Mount Dora

    Food & Dining

    MOUNT DORA

    You've driven all the way to Mount Dora for dinner at Norman Van Aken's new restaurant. You are not amped at the idea of a post-prandial two-hour drive, am I right? Mount Dora is perfect for a weekend getaway, so make it a food-focused field trip. Wander Donnelly, Fourth and Fifth streets to find an array of noshing options (Working Cow Ice Cream; $9.95 lobster rolls at Let's Do Lunch) and gift ideas (Piglet's Pantry Dog Bakery, because you know your pooch hates it when you go away for the weekend). And then there are these, each of which merits a bit of time:...

    Bethany Franklin organizes spices to be sold at the Spice & Tea Exchange in Mount Dora.
  13. Local chefs put their spin on readers' classic holiday recipes

    Cooking

    Readers have weighed in with their favorite holiday recipes, some haloed entertaining classics and others decidedly idiosyncratic family heirlooms. We asked a quartet of local chefs to put their own spins on reader write-ins — interpretations that showcase each chef's unique style and that just might breathe fresh life into this year's seasonal gatherings. Some of these require serious chops in the kitchen, but think of the payoff when your guests "ooooh."...

    Chef Jeannie Pierola of Edison: Food+Drink Lab puts the finishing touches on her chowder.  [Photo by CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  14. Dining Planner: What you need to know for the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

    Food & Dining

    Epcot: 62 days of food & wine

    We're just around the corner from the 21st Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, Sept. 14 to Nov. 14. It has become one of the country's top food festivals and features Instagram-worthy sips and bites at more than 30 marketplaces. And for the second consecutive year, ABC's Emmy Award-winning lifestyle series The Chew will produce a full week of programs from the festival. Hosts Mario Batali, Carla Hall, Michael Symon, Clinton Kelly and Daphne Oz will share their Disney culinary adventures and tasty recipes before Epcot audiences Oct. 5-7 in shows scheduled to air Oct. 10-14. ...

    Guests can sample tapas-sized tastes of inventive cuisine and beverages at the Patagonia Marketplace during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival at Walt Disney World Resort.
  15. Dining Planner: Junior Chefs of America compete, 'Top Chef' Jeffrey Jew cooks

    Food & Dining

    NOTE: Since this report was first posted, the Summer of Rum Festival has been canceled due to high winds from Hurricane Hermine. Refunds will be awarded at point of purchase.

    CALLING HALF PINTS: CUBAN SANDWICH CHALLENGE

    On Sunday, kids ages 4-17 compete in the annual Junior Chefs of America fundraiser to purchase kitchen equipment and utensils. Young chefs, tutored by local chefs that include Chopped contestant Rhonda Taylor DeLoatch, Paola Tazerez and Lauren Fury, square off by age groups to create winning Cuban sandwich recipes and win scholarships to further their culinary experience. The winner of each age group will be named a Top Junior Chef of America, with prize money of $500 and a 12-week scholarship to the Junior Chefs of America Cooking School, which is scheduled to open in September. Guests are invited to cheer on their favorite budding chef in a pet-friendly, outdoor setting with live entertainment, food vendors, kid-friendly vendors, educational learning booths and kids activities. Admission is free, but donations are welcome and will benefit Junior Chefs of America, a nonprofit cooking school. Noon to 5 p.m. Centennial Park, 1800 E Eighth Ave., Tampa. (813) 408-1078. juniorchefsofamerica.org....

    Young chefs, tutored by local chefs, square off by age groups to create winning Cuban sandwich recipes and win scholarships to further their culinary experience.