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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. 3 new restaurants open: Deccan Spice Indian food, Farmacy Vegan Kitchen, the Cake Shop

    Food & Dining


    Deccan Spice has opened at 2325 Ulmerton Road, in what used to be the elegant and vast Grand Siam space in Feather Sound. It's getting high marks so far for its traditional Indian lunch buffet, and offers a range of southern Indian dishes (vadas and dosas and idlis, oh my) seldom seen in this area. (727) 623-4009.


    Inside the charming Duckweed Urban Market in downtown Tampa, Farmacy Vegan Kitchen & Bakery has opened. Some of the offerings are straight-up in the tempeh zone, but there are lots of decadent-looking doughnuts, sticky buns and the like, many of them gluten free. 803 N Tampa St., Tampa. (786) 214-0671....

    Farmacy Vegan Kitchen + Bakery serves wraps, acai bowls, smoothies and juices and plant-based baked goods like strawberry cupcakes. Photo courtesy of Charles Rumph.
  2. Drink up this weekend: Tampa Theatre Barley's Angels festival, Tampa Bay Bloody Mary Festival

    Food & Dining

    Thirst quench: Barley's Angels

    Saturday night marks this year's beer-oriented major fundraiser for the historic Tampa Theatre. It's usually a good excuse to dress funny and drink overmuch, and this year is no exception. The theme is Barley's Angels, so get your Drew Barrymore or Lucy Liu on. Or, if you're old school like me, your Kate Jackson or Jaclyn Smith (but points off if you come as Shelley Hack). Guests enjoy craft and locally brewed beer samplings, snacks and tastes from top area restaurants, live music and themed food....

    “Grilled Bloody Mary” recipe by Big Green Craig and taught by Egghead Josh Tahan of Riverview at a Big Green Egg cooking class called “Breakfast for Dinner” taught by Tahan at the The Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium in Brandon, Saturday,  9/17/16.
  3. Review: Gulfport's Habana Cafe a Cuban staple after 20 years

    Food & Dining


    Mike McNally started working in the kitchen as a dishwasher when he was 17. He's 37 now and the head cook. Pokey Wynn and Martie Sanchez have been cooking and expediting in the kitchen for 16 years each. Sara Fernandez has been handling the dining room for not quite that long. The mural by Gulfport muralist Keith Stillwagon has been preserved for two decades, the Florida flora and fauna faded but never painted over. And on the website, a plucky but amateurish organ rendition of that old chestnut La Bamba provides the nostalgic soundtrack....

    In May, Habana Cafe celebrated its 20th anniversary, making it one of the elder statesmen in Gulfport. Early on, the audience had a steep learning curve.
  4. A chat with Jo Hastings, owner of Habana Cafe in Gulfport

    Food & Dining

    On the 20th anniversary of the opening of Gulfport's Habana Cafe, owner Jo Hastings, one of the few female restaurateurs in this market, chatted with us about the evolution of the local food scene.

    How have things changed over the 20 years you've operated in Gulfport?

    It's been a long transition. The first year I tried introducing things like tostones and ropa vieja and it just wasn't working. I'd put tostones in to-go orders and I'd get calls: "What is this little flying saucer?" In Tampa and Miami it was a totally different story, but 20 years ago in Gulfport, people just knew what a Cuban sandwich was. It has taken 20 years, but I don't have to explain it all anymore. Now we have people asking for tostones by name....

    Jo Hastings, the owner of Habana Cafe in Gulfport, came to the United States from Cuba at age 4.
  5. Need a quick food idea for Father's Day? We've got you covered.

    Food & Dining

    Dad's Day: The expected and unexpected

    Let me guess. Steak, right? Maybe with his favorite bourbon as a chaser?

    You can go the traditional route this Father's Day at one of the area's top steak houses, Council Oak Steaks & Seafood at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa. They just unveiled a very substantial menu and cocktail list change last week, with a passel of new appetizers (calamari and lobster with smoked cherry peppers and red wine gastrique; local lionfish with Florida citrus and melted fennel), new steaks (a 21-ounce bone-in New York strip and prime rib on the weekends) and desserts like baked Alaska. Oh, daddy....

    The Great St. Pete Cupcake Contest at the Morean Arts Center is Aug. 19, but registration is open now.
  6. Restaurant review: At Olive the World Bistro, olive oils and vinegars enhance a small but smart menu

    Food & Dining


    There is not a ton of consensus about the best way to taste olive oils. Some say put a small amount of each in opaque cups so you aren't swayed by the color, swirl them around, slurp while sucking in air, swish them in your mouth, swallow. Then cleanse the palate, but with what? Crackers, bread, maybe slices of apple. But what are you looking for precisely? Mildness or intensity, fruitiness or nuttiness, bitterness or pungency — there are all kinds of descriptors. Really, aren't you seeking an olive oil that meshes well with the things you like to eat and the way you like to cook?...

    Fustis contain a variety of balsamic vinegars available for purchase at Olive the World Bistro in Tarpon Springs. The containers minimize exposure to air and light, making them perfect for storing olive oils, vinegars, water or wine.
  7. 100 years after it disappeared, a giant Florida watermelon is brought back to life

    Food & Dining


    Under a mossy live oak on farmer Will Crum's farm, chef Greg Baker thumped a watermelon. They both listened — a low tone, a little hollow-sounding.

    "Can I get a little more reverb?" Baker joked, giving it another gentle rap.

    It was ready. And on Thursday, a bit of Florida history was made. Together, Baker and Crum have brought back the Florida Favorite....

    Restaurateur Greg Baker lifts a 30-pound Florida Favorite watermelon Thursday at the Crum Brothers Family Farm in Lakeland. Crum said the plants were “runty’’ when they first came up.
  8. Heights Public Market adds breakfast diner, MFA brings back Art + Beer Lounge

    Food & Dining

    Taken to new heights: Heights Public Market

    Let's review. Slated to open this summer, the Heights Public Market is a repurposing of Tampa Heights' Armature Works building, a 70,000-square-foot former storage and maintenance facility for Tampa's streetcars. It will house multiple event spaces, a shared workspace, a rooftop social area and a whole bunch of exciting food concepts. Already announced are Ichicoro Ramen, (ramen shown top left), Union by Commune + Co (coffee), Fine and Dandy (cocktails), Butcher & BBQ (meat, charcuterie, etc.), Ava (pizza shown), Inside The Box Café, O Cocina Taqueria and Swami Juice. But wait, there's more. It was recently announced that Graze 1910 will be added to the mix. The idea here: Breakfast. All. Day. It will be a retro eatery serving an array of comfort food classics from Raymond Menendez, the managing partner who helped birth and spearhead Tampa's popular diner Daily Eats. Look forward to citrus glazed waffles, an array of signature toasts and classic egg dishes. Graze 1910 will be located at the south entrance of Armature Works along the Hillsborough River, with interior and exterior counter seating and two takeout stations....

    Effigy Beaker (Kero) is among the art.
  9. Kanpai! Soon it could be easier to get sake in Florida


    If Gov. Rick Scott signs off on the legislation, starting July 1 sake can be sold by any retailer or restaurant licensed to sell wine.

    Sushi is more popular than ever, ditto ramen, yakitori and a host of other formerly exotic Japanese foods. Yet fans of sake, the famed Japanese rice wine and the perfect accompanying quaff, have long had to contend with murky legal issues that sometimes make it impossible for Floridians to enjoy both at the same time....

    A selection of Japanese imported Sake photographed at Noble Rice in Tampa.
  10. Trouble getting sake in Florida? Law could soon change for the better

    Bars & Spirits

    Kanpai! • If Gov. Rick Scott signs off on the legislation, starting July 1 sake can be sold by any retailer or restaurant licensed to sell wine. • Sushi is more popular than ever, ditto ramen, yakitori and a host of other formerly exotic Japanese foods. Yet fans of sake, the famed Japanese rice wine and the perfect accompanying quaff, have long had to contend with murky legal issues that sometimes make it impossible for Floridians to enjoy both at the same time. • That's because state law officially defines wine as a beverage fermented from grapes, berries or other fruit. Made from fermented rice, sake (pronounced "sah-kay," not "socky") often has been erroneously lumped with liquors, typically distilled from grains. Restaurants, grocery and convenience stores, and other places allowed to sell and serve wine and beer, but not liquor, have often shied away from sake, fearing legal problems....

    Noble Rice in Tampa serves a selection of Japanese sake, which is made from fermented rice. Current Florida law defines wine as made only from grapes, berries or other fruit.
  11. Restaurant review: Food needs to catch up to appealing bar program and decor at Oldsmar's Suegra Tequila Cantina

    Food & Dining


    In the Tampa Bay area we've had a fairly hefty influx of upscale, ambitious Mexican restaurants — O Cocina, Besito, Bartaco, Miguelito's, Red Mesa's growing empire. But it was some months back when I heard Boston celebrity chef Todd Hall was teaming up with City Fish Grill owners Craig and Matt Vario to do an upscale Mexican restaurant in that location that this trend seemed en fuego....

    Mexican flan with candied sugar plum and seasonal berries served at Suegra Tequila Cantina in Oldsmar on Thursday, June 1, 2017.
  12. Remember Carvel's Fudgie the Whale cake? It's turning 40


    On June 1, Fudgie the Whale turns the big 4-0.

    The Carvel cake was invented in 1977 as a Father's Day promotion — "to a whale of a dad" — and almost immediately became a punchline. The whale-shaped treat has since had cameos on David Letterman, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show; in the comedy sketches of Patton Oswalt, Kevin Smith and Billy Crystal; in the lyrics of ironic songsmith Jonathan Coulton ("expect a visit from Fudgie the Whale / Ice cream and crunchies in his fudgy tail"); and even as bizarre ammo in the years-long battle between President Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell....

    On June 1, Fudgie the Whale turns the big 4-0. This Carvel cake was invented in 1977 as a Father's Day promotion. Photo courtesy Carvel Ice Cream.
  13. Dining Planner: Tampa location announced for BetterByrd, Cider Press burger aims to convert omnivores

    Food & Dining


    The James Beard Foundation has brought back the Blended Burger Project, and St. Petersburg's Cider Press Cafe has entered the fray. Chefs from around the country join a movement that strives to make burgers healthier and more sustainable by blending ground meat with chopped mushrooms. Through July 31, voters cast their ballots on the burger's use of mushrooms, flavor profile and appetizing appearance....

    Cider Press Cafe’s Beyond Burger is blended with mushrooms and garlic and topped with eggplant bacon-tomato jam.
  14. Restaurant review: Features Gastropub in Riverview is fine as movie theater fare, but unimpressive otherwise

    Food & Dining

    Movies aren't exactly dying. Despite all the sturm und drang of predictions that Netflix and streaming videos would kill the cinema, global box office receipts hit $38.6 billion in 2016, a 1 percent gain over the previous year. But that doesn't mean going to the cinema is precisely what it was a generation ago.

    Eighteen- to 24-year-olds go the most these days, and the next-highest patronage is among 12- to 17-year-olds. Which brings me to this: Why have high-end, super-swanky restaurants-cum-theaters proliferated in recent years? I've written about Studio Movie Grill, CinéBistro and a raft of others alongside Times movie critic Steve Persall. These are places where ticket prices are $12 and $15, things ratchetting up quickly when you add in a couple beverages and a grilled salmon bowl....

    Soft pretzels are displayed with a beer at the Features Gastropub in the Riverview 14 GDX  theater in Gibsonton, Fla. on Thursday, May 25, 2017.   The 5,900-square-foot Features Gastropub open in the . This element of the project is the brainchild of Philadelphia chef Brian Duffy, who appears frequently on NBC's The Today Show and the Spike TV show Bar Rescue
  15. The last farmer of Florida's prized Zellwood corn is thinking of packing it in



    Hank Scott steps out of his pickup between the long rows and snaps off an ear that grows about bellybutton-high on the forehead-high stalks. Shucking it with a satisfying rip and not being too fussy about the rogue strands of silk, he bites into the bicolored ear, the back of his hand a napkin. Raw, no butter, nothing — it's just about perfect, its juice as sticky as peach dribbles. Scott, 61, wears a close-cropped gray beard and his reading glasses dangling from stretchy blue Croakies. His shirt is embroidered with the Long & Scott Farms logo, "Est. 1963." ¶ He and his family are the keepers and protectors of one of Florida's only remaining name brand foods. Folks know Plant City strawberries, they know Ruskin tomatoes and Indian River grapefruit. And they know Zellwood corn. Scott's Zellwood Triple-Sweet Gourmet Corn is proudly touted on menus in some of the state's best restaurants. It's a super-sweet, super-tender, super-premium corn that's in high season right now. ¶ The farm has beaten all odds, avoiding a massive government shutdown, even venturing into the trendy world of kale. ¶ But as consumers demand gourmet, local products more than ever, they also want them fast and cheap. And after all it has been through, Florida's most prized corn may be going extinct....

    A field of Scott's Zellwood Triple-Sweet Gourmet Corn is seen at Long and Scott Farms in Mount Dora, Fla., on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. The farm is owned by Hank Scott and his father Frank Scott. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times