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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


Twitter: @LReiley

  1. Dining Planner: The Dinner Series at Rooster & the Till, Cuban Pete

    Food & Dining

    Culinary conversation: The Dinner Series

    Quick: What do chefs complain about most? Not the long hours. Not the heat. It's the isolation from their peers.

    Frequently chefs, even high-profile chefs, are shackled to their kitchens 100 hours a week, with little time to kibbitz with compatriots or try each other's grub. Which perhaps explains why a bunch of them have had the same good idea: guest chef dinner series. Rooster & the Till in Tampa is unveiling a doozy of one....

    Josh Cameron, who bought downtown St. Petersburg’s Oyster Bar in 2013, has since acquired Fortunato’s Italian Market and the Lucky Dill. Pictured are the “Fog Island,” “Bay of Pigs” and “Oyscargot” oysters served at his Empire Oyster Bar.
  2. Restaurant review: Love Food Central in downtown St. Petersburg will please vegans and carnivores alike

    Food & Dining


    It happened the way these things tend to happen. When Valerie Mantzoros was 20 she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. They said she would be in a wheelchair by the time she was 30. She went to a homeopath who suggested she try going dairy-free, gluten-free and sugar-free. She did, also cutting out processed food and meat. Over time, she got better and symptoms disappeared....

    The Hail Caesar salad with tempeh and avocado at Love Food Central includes local kale massaged with Caesar dressing and sprinkled with toasted pine nuts, house-made vegan Parmesan cheese and capers.
  3. Lettuce explain why you're paying a dollar more for leafy greens


    The price of leafy greens and other produce from California is soaring, all the way in Florida.

    Lettuce explain.

    In a classic example of feast or famine, after a decadelong drought, California farmers have had to cope with unusually high snow melt this spring along with heavy rains that have adversely affected the planting, growth and harvesting of crops including leafy greens, cauliflower, celery and others....

    Cook Carlos Moran chops lettuce from California at Red Mesa in St. Petersburg on Thursday, April 20, 2017. The restaurant has noticed prices going up on California produce.
  4. Dining Planner: Florida Blueberry Festival, Seafood and Sweets, Taste of Ybor

    Food & Dining


    Blueberry season is in full swing, with this year's Florida Blueberry Festival making it official. First, there's the festival kick-off event on Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Saxon Manor. The Victorian Epicurean Tasting benefits the Brooksville Vision Foundation and offers tastings, hors d'oeuvres and a souvenir glass. $50. 103 S Saxon Ave., Brooksville. (352) 540-6409. Then on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the festival on Main Street in downtown Brooksville includes music and street entertainment, a wine bar, food and a market featuring Florida-grown blueberries and other produce, blueberry kids zone, beer garden and a thousand-foot-long slip and slide. $10, $5 ages 13-17, free for 12 and younger (slip and slide tickets separate). (352) 754-4173....

    iStockphoto images
  5. Review: How to eat Korean barbecue at 66 Q-Pot Korean BBQ and Hot Pot (w/video)

    Food & Dining


    The first time I had Korean barbecue and hot pot it was in San Francisco in 1991. I bungled the whole thing robustly. I cooked things too long, made huge unwieldy burritos with lettuce leaves, used the wrong sauces on the different meats and generally looked like a bad Edward Scissorhands impression with my slippery metal chopsticks. Oh, and, waiter, I think there's something wrong with this cabbage thing called kimchi. It seems almost, like, fermented....

    Diners enjoy hot pot and Korean barbecue at 66 Q-Pot Korean BBQ & Hot Pot.
  6. Here's where to make Easter brunch reservations in Tampa Bay

    Food & Dining

    EASTER EATS: Where to brunch, eggzactly?

    Every spring the calls come. "Where should we go for Easter brunch?" After Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, it's just about the toughest reservation to come by. Here's a selection of Easter options on Sunday, many of them in Tampa Bay hotels.


    Located in the Hotel Zamora on St. Pete Beach, new executive chef Nicolas Lebas will offer a prix-fixe three-course brunch menu from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., featuring items from eggplant beignets to rainbow trout with serrano ham. $55. Its 360° Rooftop Lounge also hosts a 1 p.m. egg hunt (one hunter will win a room stay). 3701 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach. (727) 456-8660....

    Loews Don CeSar Hotel
  7. Joint venture aims to grow to 20 Fresh Kitchen locations in Florida

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — It sounds like a perfectly healthy fit. The Ciccio Restaurant Group (the Lodge, Green Lemon, Daily Eats, etc.) and Covelli Family Limited Partnership (Covelli Enterprises has nearly 300 Panera Bread locations) announced Monday they have formed a joint venture partnership for the growth and expansion of the Fresh Kitchen brand.

    The partnership aims to have 20 locations in Florida in the next five years, with thoughts of regional and national expansion after that....

     L-R: Jeff Gigante, James Lanza and Luis Flores stand for a portrait inside of Ciccio's, formerly known as Ciccio and Tony's, on South Howard Avenue in this 2012 photo. 
[Times file photo]
  8. Restaurant review: This Tampa shop is rated No. 4 in the nation on Yelp, and lives up to the hype

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — AJ's Press is a tiny freestanding shack around the corner from the side entrance of Steinbrenner Field, its handful of tables made of repurposed doors and the counter constructed of packing pallet slats. It also happens to be the No. 4 highest-ranked restaurant on Yelp.




    How does this happen? Rhapsodic over-the-moon five-star reviews get avid Yelpers curious enough to hop in the car. When those folks' expectations are met or exceeded, you get more five-star reviews. And so on. AJ's Press' Yelp listing has 201 photos, many of them blurrily enthusiastic closeups of pressed Cubans and beer-braised brisket sandwiches, and 207 reviews. Nearly all of them five stars....

    AJ's Press in Tampa is the No. 4 highest-ranked restaurant on Yelp in the country.
  9. It looks like a berry good year for Florida blueberry farmers


    Blueberries are like comedy. It's all about timing.

    There's a sweet spot, after Chilean imports and before the Georgia harvest, in which Florida's southern high bush berries are not just the only game in town. They're the only game on Earth. This is not an accident. Scientists have worked with Florida growers for decades developing varieties that will ripen right when there isn't competition....

    pick your own: A sign directs drivers to the Bob’s Blueberries orchard Sunday in Hudson. Prices are hovering at $5 per pound at many places where you can pick the berries. A list of farms is on Page 4A.
  10. Dining planner: Festa Italiana, Florida Loquat Festival, Pepper Fest

    Food & Dining

    IM-PRESSED: Cuban Sandwich Festival wrapup

    I ran into Hyunmin Cho and Geunmin Kang in the thick of the Cuban Sandwich Festival on Sunday. Cho and Kang were taking a break from crafting their entry, waiting for the time to present their sandwiches to the judges in the Student Services Building on the Hillsborough Community College campus in Ybor City.

    Despite the fact that this was their first time in Tampa, and despite the fact that they make Cuban sandwiches in Seoul, South Korea, they emerged victorious, nabbing first place for most popular Cuban sandwich....

    Loquat fruits, growing in clusters, are oval, rounded or pear-shaped. The Florida Loquat Festival returns this weekend to  New Port Richey.
  11. Restaurant review: Blake's Crab Cakes offering a real taste of Maryland in St. Petersburg

    Food & Dining


    I didn't know what I didn't know. My first gig for the Baltimore Sun was participating in the quarterly dining guide, schlepping out to Randallstown and Dundalk, Canton and Arbutus (that's an unfortunate town name, right?) to crown the best crab cakes. A cake's a cake, I thought. Ah, young silly me, how adorbz you were in your ignorance.

    First, there is canned versus fresh crab meat. And then, within the fresh category, there's regular fresh and there's pasteurized, both a cooked product but the pasteurized lending a faint metallic taste to a finished cake. Also, there's grade: "jumbo," "lump" or "back fin" (all good), and the smaller, squidgier "flake" and "special." It goes without saying that the species of crab used matters. (Blue crab, yay. Swimming crab and other species, boo.) And then there's what you use as filler (crushed saltines) and binding (tiny bit of egg). Less is more. Same goes for flavorings — parsley, minced red pepper, garlic are all lovely things, just not in the dream crab cake. A little Old Bay is fair game, as are Worcestershire, Dijon and hot sauce, but don't get nuts. Cakes shouldn't be overmixed, or tightly packed. They should be ball-like and fried just so, so both sides are golden but the center still has plush give....

    The jumbo lump crab cakes feature hunks of crab, smaller shreds of crab with a bit of moist filler and a hint of Old Bay.
  12. South Koreans, Cuban sandwiches and the Columbia restaurant in Tampa: A love story

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — Hyunmin Cho gazes down at the sandwich wedge in his hand. Ham on the bottom, then pork, salami, cheese, two pickles and yellow mustard, pressed hard between two La Segunda slices.

    "We've only seen it on YouTube," he says. "This is so exciting."

    In a way, Cho, 31, and business partner, Geunmin Kang, 29, have journeyed halfway around the planet and through many time zones to land in the dining room of the mother ship. The Columbia Restaurant, the oldest continuously operated restaurant in Florida, where several years back, fourth-generation owner Richard Gonzmart spent $30,000 researching precisely how Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez Sr. made the perfect Tampa Cuban sandwich in 1915....

    Geunmin Kang, 29, left, and Hyunmin Cho, 31, take a bite out of a Columbia Restaurant Cuban sandwich on Wednesday.
  13. Dining Planner: Crowning the king at the Cuban Sandwich smackdown

    Food & Dining

    One Tasty weekend:


    Show your Tampa Bay fealty by attending the sixth annual Cuban Sandwich Festival at the Ybor campus of Hillsborough Community College, whereby a team of Cuban sandwich professionals will attempt to create the largest Cuban sandwich in the world at noon Saturday. (Okay, but how do you press that thing? A fleet of irons?) There's also a kids' Cuban sandwich smackdown and a Cuban sandwich eating contest. This is all preamble for the big event at 11 a.m. Sunday, the grown-up smackdown featuring restaurants from all around the world including London and Seoul, South Korea, competing for the title of world's best Cuban sandwich. Organizers are expecting 45,000 people to attend, many of them in direct conflict about what constitutes the perfect Cuban (up with mustard and Genoa salami!). There are celebrity judges (including a stunt man, but maybe he's uniquely prepared to taste all those sandwiches) and the crowd will name its own Cuban sandwich king or queen. 1320 E Palm Ave., Tampa. Free admission. ...

    A stack of sandwiches from the Floridian. The restaurant won the Tampa Historic category at the 2015 Cuban Sandwich Festival.
  14. Dirty Dozen and Clean 15: Which fruits and vegetables are most likely to contain pesticides, and which aren't


    Sonya Lunder tells it like it is. She sniffs out the Dirty Dozen just as swiftly as she can pick out the Clean 15. As the lead author of the Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce and with a master's degree in public health with a focus on environmental health and toxicology, she eagle-eyes USDA monitoring and testing. And with this data, she helps to compile the annual lists of good guys and bad guys in the produce world. ...

    Sonya Lunder is lead author of the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
  15. Outback Steakhouse out, giant Bloody Marys and local food in at Tropicana Field

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays and Centerplate trotted out the Trop's new menu items on Monday and the big shock-and-awe food was a liquid refreshment.

    Picture a fat and sassy Bloody Mary served in a collectible plastic mason jar that sports a skewer as long as a samurai sword impaling two doughnuts, a chicken and waffle assemblage, a hard-boiled egg and a bacon-wrapped sausage. Oh, and there's a shrimp lurking somewhere in the murky, tomatoey depths. Available only for day games, this is a one-and-done brunch spectacular and the priciest quaffable at $16....

    Brunch Bloody Mary: Served in a collectible plastic mason jar, this drink will be available only during day games. Yes, that’s doughnuts and a hard-boiled egg, among other foods, on a skewer.