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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. Author Randy Wayne White could open St. Pete's biggest restaurant on the pier

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — The story begins with Yucatan shrimp.

    St. Petersburg's Mayor Kriseman took a trip down to Sanibel Island to visit Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille, a sprawling good-times restaurant named for the central character in a number of Randy Wayne White's novels. Butter, garlic, cilantro and mild Colombian chilies — Kriseman was grooving on the shrimp. And what's more, he liked the folks behind Doc Ford's....

    St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, pilot Mark Futch, Boca Grande, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and author and businessman Randy Wayne White,  Sanibel, exit a Maule Super Rocket seaplane after taking a fight around Tampa Bay off the St. Petersburg waterfront, 6/28/17.  White and his business partners are in negotiations with the City of St. Petersburg to build a fourth Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier with a second event space on the pier according to White. The group met near Spa Beach after a ground breaking ceremony for the new pier. "We want to have our business open by the time the pier opens," said White. Other Dr. Ford restaurants are located on Sanibel, Captiva and Ft. Myers Beach. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
  2. Where to celebrate Fourth of July with food

    Food & Dining

    Celebrate: Independence

    Do fireworks make you hungry? If a backyard barbecue isn't in the cards over the holiday, Locale Market is hosting a four-day event Tuesday to July 7. They will offer a special tasting menu on those days of classic Americana foods for $17.76. (Get it?!) Each food station will have a different dish that chef Jeffrey Hileman has created, including burger bites, barbecued chicken skewers, pepperoni pizza, wagyu beef hot dogs and apple pie. Fifteen percent of the proceeds will be donated to Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides full college tuition assistance to the children of Special Ops troops who die in the line of duty, and financial grants for Special Ops troops who are severely injured. localegourmetmarket.com....

    Locale Market’s four-day event offers a tasting menu of classic foods for $17.76.
  3. Restaurant review: Deccan Spice in Feather Sound is a gateway to the allures of Indian cuisine

    Food & Dining

    CLEARWATER

    Feather Sound's Tru Lounge, which was Flo Lounge before that, morphed into Grand Siam in 2012, a giant Thai restaurant owned by the folks who had Ban Thai restaurants in Tampa, Clearwater, Brandon and Lakeland. It was lavish with dramatic fluted chandeliers and a long, polished wood sushi bar, but it was so much open floor space that one envisioned line dancing classes or at least duckpin bowling....

    Some of the selections at a recent lunch buffet at Deccan Spice included chicken biryani, gobi masala and murgh masala.
  4. 3 new restaurants open: Deccan Spice Indian food, Farmacy Vegan Kitchen, the Cake Shop

    Food & Dining

    DECCAN SPICE

    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.

    FARMACY VEGAN KITCHEN & BAKERY

    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.
  5. 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....

    Sea Salt executive chef Kenny Tufo prepares poached rock shrimp atop wakame seaweed in lobster foie gras cappuccino at the 5th Annual Los Vinos de Dali fundraiser at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Sunday, April 10, 2016. The museum bills the event as “an afternoon of art, food and wine.”
  6. Review: Gulfport's Habana Cafe a Cuban staple after 20 years

    Food & Dining

    GULFPORT

    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....

    Cream cheese flan is a signature dessert at Habana Cafe, and for good reason. It earned restaurant owner Jo Hastings $10,000 in Southern Living’s annual cookoff.
  7. 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.
  8. 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....

    Zach West is executive chef at the Ox.
  9. Restaurant review: At Olive the World Bistro, olive oils and vinegars enhance a small but smart menu

    Food & Dining

    TARPON SPRINGS

    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?...

    Donna Hollingsworth of Tarpon Springs, left, visits with Olive the World Bistro owner Gini Aloise. Aloise and her husband, Chris, opened Olive the World in September 2015 in Tarpon Springs.
  10. 100 years after it disappeared, a giant Florida watermelon is brought back to life

    Food & Dining

    LAKELAND

    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.
  11. 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.
  12. Kanpai! Soon it could be easier to get sake in Florida

    Blog

    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.
  13. 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....

    A selection of Japanese imported Sake photographed at Noble Rice in Tampa. (LUIS SANTANA   |   Times)
  14. Restaurant review: Food needs to catch up to appealing bar program and decor at Oldsmar's Suegra Tequila Cantina

    Food & Dining

    OLDSMAR

    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....

    Suegra Tequila Cantina in Oldsmar on Thursday, June 1, 2017.
  15. Remember Carvel's Fudgie the Whale cake? It's turning 40

    Consumer

    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.