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. Review: Pom Pom's in St. Pete has promise but needs to refine recipes

    Food & Dining


    Pom Moongauklang is a sandwich virtuoso in Orlando. Her Pom Pom's Teahouse & Sandwicheria has been a longtime hipster destination, her nearby Tako Cheena just as packed, both of them known for their gutsy, often wacky juxtapositions of East-West ingredients. For almost a year there was word that franchise rights for a second location had been purchased by retired Orange County deputy Tom Woodard, who aimed to open his colorful boho hangout in a former gas station in the bustling Grand Central District of St. Petersburg....

    Mama Ling Ling’s Thanksgiving sandwich at Pom Pom’s includes sliced turkey, ginger-cranberry chutney, Gouda, stuffing, mashed potato, cream cheese and a side of gravy. The restaurant serves up East-West fusion sandwiches in combinations that might make one skeptical (pulled pork and peanut butter).
  2. Review: Besito Mexican in Tampa a solid, date-worthy Mexican restaurant

    Food & Dining


    It means "little kiss" in Spanish, and Besito Mexican is certainly seasoned restaurateur Chris Sullivan's latest smooch to the Tampa Bay area. The Outback Steakhouse founder debuted the wine bar Carmel Cafe (now Carmel Kitchen) a few years back, but it wasn't until he ran across John Tunney's "polished casual" Mexican concept, with two locations in Long Island and one in Hartford, Conn., that he took the plunge with an all-new cuisine. Opened in April, this newcomer suits the space, fits a new niche and, perhaps best of all, provides a no-brainer for this year's Cinco de Mayo festivities. ...

    The house guac ($9.95) in the traditional footed molcajete (mortar and pestle) is a nice foil for salsa, though the heavy flavor of onion took away from the plushness of the avocados.
  3. A roundup of new picture books for children


    Goodnight Already!

    By Jory John and Benji Davies

    Harper, $17.99; ages 4-8

    "Hey, I'm bored. Want to hang out?" And so it begins, the push and pull between wide-awake Duck and time-to-(yawn)-hibernate Bear. It's an interspecies example of why fences make good neighbors. In Jory John's story, Duck (who looks a bit like the Aflac duck) wants to play cards, borrow a cup of sugar — anything to keep Bear from packing it in for the night. Illustrator Benji Davies renders Duck's pages in all sunny yellows and vibrant reds; Bear's are inky with bruise-colored shadows and soft blue sheets. It's all in good fun, a lively call-and-response book to read aloud to prereaders, with the most charming image of Duck sporting multiple Band-Aids: "I stubbed my beak." And in the end? Duck succumbs to the sandman while Bear is left baking insomniac cookies....

  4. For Earth Day, Tampa Bay food businesses that are doing their part

    Food & Dining

    When it started in 1970, Earth Day was part antiwar protest, part nascent environmental worries and part hippie woo-woo. As we near 7 billion people on the planet, April 22 for many people has become a day to step back and think about the impact all those lives have on the planet. The biggest piece of this metaphorical pie is our need to eat food: the animals we raise to eat, the transportation of foodstuffs and supplies, deforestation and the destruction of habitat in the name of agriculture. • A number of Tampa Bay restaurants and food businesses are adopting different strategies for being more environmentally cognizant. Some fit neatly into the "renew-reuse-recycle" paradigm and others entail novel collaborations with other businesses. In honor of Earth Day, here are a few notable examples....

    To reduce food waste, Fred’s Southern Kitchen in Plant City offers diners three buffet options: “blue plate,” “one trip” and “I’m going to town.”
  5. Review: St. Petersburg's POW debuts pizza and wings next to World of Beer

    Food & Dining


    Look up, and vintage black-and-white episodes of Batman and Robin play on a sextet of old-timey television screens. Over there is an oversized pop art mural of Salvador Dalí as costumed superhero (that mustache is surprisingly intimidating when accompanied by a mask). The banquettes feature comic book pop art. In short, POW, the new project of Philippe Theodore, is a hoot to look at. Opened last month in the space vacated by Wood Fired Pizza in October, it hopes to do what Wood Fired didn't manage: establish a niche in the dense restaurant community of downtown St. Petersburg, working synergistically with the beer-no-food World of Beer next door....

    The Hawaiian BBQ Pizza at POW is topped with pulled pork, smoked Gouda, pineapple, grilled onion and cilantro, is among the offerings
  6. Florida's crop of new craft distilleries stands ready to sell more liquor

    Bars & Spirits

    Feeling thirsty? It's looking as if Florida drinkers may have something to celebrate when a measure moving through the Legislature loosens purchase restrictions at craft breweries.

    But it's not just about beer. If the legislation passes, it will also help a growing number of Florida micro-distilleries, a new class of independent liquormakers popping up from St. Petersburg to Dunedin and beyond....

    St. Petersburg Distillery’s director of product development Daniel Undhammar, second from right, talks about the copper pot stills hand-crafted in the 1930s as he gives a distillery tour Thursday.
  7. Iconic Goody Goody restaurant to reopen in Hyde Park Village

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — After months of speculation, the location of the soon-to-be-resurrected Goody Goody — the iconic restaurant known for its pies and bags of hamburgers "POX" with pickles, onions and the fabled secret sauce — has been announced.

    This fall, Goody Goody will rise in Hyde Park Village at 1601 W Swann Ave. on the corner of Swann and South Dakota avenues on the same block as CinéBistro....

    Richard Gonzmart in the driver seat of the Goody Goody truck.
  8. Review: Haven, in SideBern's old spot, sets high bar from the start

    Food & Dining


    David Laxer reached way back when naming Haven, alluding to his parents' long-ago Beer Haven in what is now the Bordeaux Room of Bern's Steak House. This homage to Gert and Bern Laxer makes one wonder what the family patriarch would think of this newcomer, which opened in March at the site of SideBern's. It's certainly less old-school fancy than Bern's, and less expensive than SideBern's, but I'm guessing Bern Laxer, who died in 2002, would be over-the-moon in love with the new project. As am I....

    Haven opened at 2208 W Morrison Ave. in Tampa in March. It’s less old-school fancy than Bern’s Steak House and less pricey than SideBern’s was.
  9. Tampa's Haven debuts bay area's most ambitious cheese program

    Food & Dining

    Cheese and charcuterie plates have cropped up all over the Tampa Bay area recently, from Annata Wine Bar and Locale Market in St. Petersburg to Cru Cellars and Bianchi's Enoteca in Tampa. But Haven, which debuted in March in the spot vacated in June 2014 by SideBern's, represents the most ambitious cheese program in our area to date.

    While this new little sibling to Bern's Steak House is more casual, with a lower price point than SideBern's, its aspirations are huge. The restaurant, at 2208 W Morrison Ave., Tampa, boasts a 2,500-bottle wine cellar and a list of more than 300 bourbons. But perhaps its most impressive element is a powerful olfactory wallop: a cheese cave that can accommodate 120 different kinds of cheeses at various stages of ripeness. ...

    Chef Chad Johnson at Haven in Tampa, on Friday March 20th, 2015. Haven opened in SideBern's space last week. 

Haven has a glass cheese cellar, visible in the dining room, that's currently storing around 120 cheeses. 

  10. Food Network star Robert Irvine talks about his 'unique' live show coming to St. Petersburg


    ST. PETERSBURG — Food Network star Robert Irvine swoops into the Mahaffey on April 19 for one evening of his multimedia, multisensory cooking demo/boot camp.

    Part motivational speaker, part muscle-bound "fixer," the host of Dinner: Impossible, Worst Cooks in America, Restaurant: Impossible and Restaurant Express travels 345 days a year by his own count, touching down to save a failing restaurant or cook dinner for 1,000 using only Slim Jims and dented cans of tahini. That's hyperbole, but some of his challenges indeed seem to verge on the impossible. We spoke with him by phone from Las Vegas recently to discuss his upcoming live show....

    Robert Irvine is host of Dinner: Impossible, Worst Cooks in America, Restaurant: Impossible and Restaurant Express.
  11. Review: Queens Head continues its reign with refreshed menu

    Food & Dining


    Successful long-standing restaurants often don't get the ink they deserve. They continue to admirably orchestrate dozens of moving parts, keep up with trends and establish a coherent identity while food critics are gadflying about looking for the flavor of the week. About the only time they get a fresh review is if there's a shakeup in the kitchen.

    Well, my intention was to re-review the Queens Head before I even knew about new chef Stephen Montalvo and his menu revamping. I've been a fan of Darren Conner and Paul Smith's adorable, quirky Kenwood original since it debuted in 2009, stopping in for a couple of meals recently that were even better than I remembered from back in the days of original chef Chris Greer....

    Queen’s Head owners Paul Smith and Darren Conner, in the restaurant on April 3rd, 2015. Queen’s Head is located at 2501 Central Ave in St. Petersburg.

  12. Review: Bull Grill Brazilian Steakhouse is a carnivore's paradise

    Food & Dining


    You start out. Your tabletop paper medallion is on green: "Bring it on, let the meat parade begin." Soon, you get nervous. They're bringing around the lombinho again, the chicken hearts and the bacon-wrapped beef. You're getting sweaty, a meat fog clouding your judgment. That's it, you flip your medallion to red: "No, thanks. Make it stop. Não, as they say in Portuguese." And so it goes at a Brazilian churrascaria (that's shoo-HOSS-ka-REE-ah)....

    Robert Abramowicz, 49, of Northeast, Md., watches as Brazilian meat cooked churrasco-style is served at Bull Grill Brazilian Steakhouse. This is the traditional gaucho parade of meats: long skewers offered tableside, accompanied by an extensive salad buffet.
  13. 5 best places to get a hot dog in Tampa Bay

    Food & Dining

    The Godzilla vs. King Kong of dogs is Nathan's versus Vienna. But then you've got to get into the toppings. In New York? A proper dog comes with steamed onions and pale, deli-style yellow mustard. In Kansas City, it's melted Swiss and kraut; Atlanta dogs get a coleslaw mantle. Whatever your frankfurter fantasies, here are some of Tampa Bay's best hot dog spots.

    Mel's Hot Dogs...

    Mel’s Hot Dogs, near Busch Gardens in Tampa, has been serving customers since 1973.
  14. Mac and cheese, bacon highlight new foods at Tropicana Field (w/video)

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — One thing is clear at Tropicana Field: Mac is king. And bacon is the crown prince.

    At a Wednesday preview of this year's new Trop foods, mac and cheese dominated, taking center stage in two of the marquee additions to the starting lineup: The 2015 signature half-pound Mac Dog ($15) and the Mac Bat ($8), an all-new adventure in portability that puts mac and cheese — topped with chili, bacon and what have you — inside an edible bread cone....

    St. Petersburg’s Ricky P’s adds a lineup of shrimp and catfish po’boys, including the Ultimate Shrimp Po’boy, left, to Tropicana Field’s menu options.
  15. Local restaurants have fun with April Fools' pranks

    Food & Dining

    Z Grille closing? Datz going Chinese? A Burger King perfume?

    Not so fast.

    We're talking April 1, people. And restaurants are notorious pranksters.

    Zack Gross, one of our area's few James Beard semifinalists, announced the 10th anniversary of his Z Grille in St. Petersburg — as well as its closure — in a Facebook post Monday evening.

    "After 10 years in the Burg, from Central Ave. to the Signature Building, we have decided to go in a different direction. From the Rowdies Den, Station House, Reno's Downtown Joint to the Sundial restaurants as competitors, we are forced to close our doors. Luckily you will be able to enjoy Zack's culinary skills at one of the mentioned restaurants … to be announced."...

    Dim sum is featured on the front of the “new” Datz menu.