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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. Running, yoga, guided meditation: Get ready for Wanderlust 108, the 'mindful triathlon'



    It wasn't the easiest thing to chant.

    "We are the Squid Rockets, the mighty, mighty Squid Rockets."

    I should have thought it through a little more, but the T-shirts were excellent (design courtesy of team member and New College undergraduate Elly Bovarnick). Truth was, I probably didn't need the enticement of custom shirts, or squid-themed prizes for the winners, in order to assemble my team for the 2016 Wanderlust 108 Festival in Curtis Hixon Park....

    The 2016 Wanderlust 108 Festival in Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa drew 1,900 attendees.
  2. After the storm: Tampa Bay old-time restaurants for which we're grateful


    Storms make you thankful, right? You pause to appreciate things you might have taken for granted, knowing they could all be whisked away in a whoosh of storm surge or wind. Here are some of the Tampa Bay stalwarts for which I'm grateful.




    The granddaddy of them all, the Columbia Restaurant bears the distinction of being the oldest restaurant in Florida as well as the nation's largest Spanish-Cuban restaurant, with 13 rooms extending one full city block. Some of these waiters have been here a lifetime, there are stirring flamenco shows most nights, and owner Richard Gonzmart has an evangelical zeal when it comes to authentic Cuban sandwiches and the tossed-tableside 1905 Salad. 2117 E Seventh Ave., Tampa; (813) 248-4961, and other locations....

    The Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City bears the distinction of being the oldest restaurant in Florida.
  3. Tips for throwing dinner parties from a seasoned pro


    I was cocky. I had nearly finished cooking school, I could make a genoise and a decent hollandaise. But, in much the way an amateur juggler who has mastered the basic three-ball cascade assumes she's ready for four, I was overconfident. In juggling, difficulty increases exponentially as you add objects. I'm pretty sure the same holds true in cooking.

    My first dinner party, and many to follow, were studies in reckless overambition. Too many dishes, too many things that had to be done last minute, too many showy and expensive ingredients. I would open the door to my dinner guests feeling shaky and disheveled, the evening spent in a swirl so I was never quite in attendance at my own party....

  4. Critical need after the storm? Feeding those in need


    Feeding those in need before, during and in the aftermath of a storm like Irma is complicated business. More than 585 shelters opened in the state of Florida in the past few days, with more than 200,000 people housed and fed. Many more people than that have found themselves without power or access to adequate food and clean drinking water.

    The state's Emergency Operations Center coordinates the response, but there are other agencies and charities involved, intricate public-private collaborations, and many independent folks who step up to the plate and feed people on their own....

    In Naples, people wait on Monday for a store to open to get food and water the morning after Irma swept through the area.
  5. How to maximize the safety and longevity of food during a hurricane like Irma


    Because Hurricane Irma's path is not yet known, most Tampa Bay families are still on the fence: Do we stay or do we go? If we stay, the next couple days will be spent amassing sufficient water and shelf-stable foods for an indeterminate number of days without power and/or running water.

    Here's how to prepare and how to know that you are maximizing the longevity and safety of your food.

    In advance of the storm:...

    It's never too early to begin preparing your emergency hurricane kit. [Times (2009)]
  6. Here's what you need to know about taking a cruise to Cuba



    It was to be a starter cruise. A quickie cruise. A get-your-feet-wet cruise for my 10-year-old niece, departing out of Tampa and meandering in a desultory fashion to Cozumel, Mexico, a no-there-there destination I'd already visited a couple of times. (Okay, there's Señor Frog's, but I'm a grownup, so it doesn't count.) A few weeks after booking, Carnival sent us an update.

    The itinerary had changed. We were going to Cuba....

    An outdoor deck on the Carnival Paradise affords a sweeping view of the cruise port in Havana.
  7. Red Mesa restaurants closing now to get ready for Hurricane Irma

    Food & Dining

    Tampa Bay restaurants are adopting a "better safe than sorry" strategy with the approach of Hurricane Irma. Peter Veytia, co-owner of Red Mesa, Red Mesa Cantina and Red Mesa Mercado, all in St. Petersburg, is closing as of tonight until further notice.

    "We've been through this drill before, operating at half staff and with half the customers due to a pending storm. How long we close depends on the storm. We've told our staff we will give them 48 hours so they can come back from wherever they are," Veytia said by phone Wednesday afternoon. "We're boarding up all three restaurants. Better to be safe."...

  8. What's hot in Tampa Bay: Cookie dough frozen yogurt sandwiches

    Food & Dining



    Warm up the couch for three days of "Wine's World" with a two-tiered wine tasting (7 to 10 p.m. Friday), elegant wine pairing (6:30 p.m. Saturday) and a screening of the film Wayne's World (3 p.m. Sunday) as a benefit for the Tampa Theatre. $45-$90 Friday; $275 Saturday; $10-$25 Sunday. 711 Franklin St., Tampa. (813) 274-8982....

    Mike Myers stars as Wayne Campbell along with  Dana Carvey as Garth Algar in Wayne’s World 2.
  9. Restaurant review: Bayshore Mediterranean Grill brings Turkish fare, and ballooning lavash bread, to Tampa

    Food & Dining


    The signature dish alone is worth the trip. They will tell you about it: oven-baked hummus ($10.99). Mmm, okay. Pureed chickpeas with tahini, only warm? Hummus is so ubiquitous these days it's probably offered as a Lunchable.

    But then it comes: an oval cast iron skillet on a wooden board, the hummus and its mantle of mozzarella cheese audibly bubbling. Next to it arrives a huge golden balloon, a just-from-the-oven sesame-dusted lavash, which you puncture to allow a whoosh of steam to escape, the whole thing deflating slowly like a birthday aftermath. Rip off a hunk of lavash — watch the fingers, still hot — and swipe it through the skillet. That's a party....

    Lahmacun, with ground beef, sweet peppers, onions, parsley and tomatoes, is on the menu at Bayshore Mediterranean Grill in Tampa.
  10. First look inside the new Hall on Franklin food hall in Tampa Heights

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA -- Maybe Jamal Wilson owes Richard Gonzmart a debt of gratitude, Gonzmart's Ulele restaurant just north of downtown one of the first signals that the suburb of Tampa Heights could be the next "it" place. Or maybe he owes that debt to the food halls that have proliferated around the country, places like the Source in Denver, Revival Food Hall in Chicago, Oxbow Public Market in Napa or Gotham West Market in New York City. Or just maybe he owes millennials, Gen Z-ers and young professionals who get it: repurpose a historic space and populate it with different vendors, cool places to sit and free WiFi, so everyone gets to eat and drink what suits their fancy....

    nPoke Rose, North Star Eatery and Bake ‘N’ Babes are three of seven vendors at 
the Hall.
  11. With new restaurants, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino wants to become a "culinary destination"

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — New Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino president Joe Lupo has big plans. This was evident in April when the complex unveiled its 700-space Orient Road parking garage and 26,000-square-foot Mezzanine Level Casino, with its "Rock Walk" of 40 new pieces of memorabilia from artists like Beyoncé, Carrie Underwood, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Nicks and Cher arrayed in glamorous glass cases. ...

    A 120-seat fine-dining American grill, yet to be named, will debut on the Hard Rock’s new mezzanine level this winter.
  12. Here's how to drink on the beach legally this Labor Day


    What do we do in honor of working people on Monday? We don't work. What do we do instead? We go to the beach. And what do we want to do there? Have an adult beverage.

    Not so fast.

    Each of the beaches in Pinellas County has its own mess of rules when it comes to imbibing the hard stuff. Maybe you heard St. Pete Beach recently loosened its restrictions, but hold on before you plan that wild party....

    A beachgoer enjoys a Mai Tai near Caddy's on the Beach on Treasure Island Thursday. It's legal to drink on Treasure Island, but with a set of rules including no kegs and no glass bottles. (LARA CERRI   |   Times)
  13. Epcot International Food & Wine Festival launches, bigger than ever

    Food & Dining


    This is getting epic. The 22nd Epcot International Food & Wine Festival starts today and runs for a longer-than-ever 75 days until Nov. 13. So, it's 13 days longer than before, but it's also bigger, with a record number of global food and wine marketplaces — 35 in all.

    Here's what you need to know about what has become one of the country's top food festivals, featuring an array of sips, bites, celebrity chef events and culinary workshops throughout the park's World Showcase and Future World. Oh, and there's a nightly Eat to the Beat concert for a little dinner music....

    St. Petersburg’s second annual Crab and Music Festival combines food, fun and family activities with live performances and a range of crab dishes.
  14. Former St. Petersburg chef feeds thousands affected by Hurricane Harvey in Victoria, Texas


    Chef James Canter's first customer Monday morning was a lost dog. It showed up at the door of Guerrilla Gourmet in Victoria, Texas, like thousands of people affected by Hurricane Harvey have the past few days, and was served a hot breakfast of eggs and donated biscuits.

    Canter, 45, who used to be the chef at the Museum of Fine Arts cafe in St. Petersburg, now runs a food truck and brick-and-mortar restaurant on Constitution Street in the historic and solidly constructed building that also houses the Victoria Advocate newspaper. He and his wife, Maureen McKoen Canter, started cooking five days ago in advance of Harvey and have scarcely taken a catnap since then, tucking their three boys, two cats and two dogs into a tent in the back room of the restaurant....

    James Canter used to be the chef at the Museum of Fine Arts cafe in St. Petersburg. He now runs Guerilla Gourmet in Victoria, Tex., which has been delivering food to the newsroom of the Victoria Advocate.
  15. Restaurant review: Kopper Kitchen remains a 40-year-old St. Petersburg stalwart, with some modern touches

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG -- One week, Anita Ferro comes in at 5:45 a.m. The next week, it's a more leisurely 6:15. She has been arriving at work before the sun is up for more than 30 years, serving breakfast and lunch crowds at Kopper Kitchen. On the plus side, tips have gotten better and folks seem to be more health conscious than they used to be. The negative? Some of the gents who used to populate the communal table, a chop-busting group called the Liar's Club, have passed away in recent years. Now it's their kids and grandkids who slide into the booths ordering over-easies and scrambles....

    Kopper Kitchen in St. Petersburg recently was closed for two weeks, providing an opportunity to remodel.