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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: [email protected]

Twitter: @LReiley

  1. Restaurant review: Mortar & Pestle in Seminole Heights should focus on mom-and-pop pharmacy vibe

    Food & Dining

    By Laura Reiley

    Times Food Critic


    Sometimes, the more time you have with a project, the more complicated it gets. I started hearing about Mortar & Pestle in Seminole Heights about 18 months ago. It was the vision of Ujwal Patel, a pharmacist;

    Ujwal's wife, Jessica Patel, also a pharmacist; and Ujwal's cousin, Badal Patel, an internist. They wanted to bring back America's historic mom-and-pop drugstores, the kind where you'd hang out, have a BLT while swinging your legs at the lunch counter, kibbitz with your community and, oh yeah, get your antibiotics prescription filled. This was, Ujwal says, the antithesis of the modern-day CVS or Walgreens, which he says are fairly lousy environments for patients and pharmacists alike....

    Beer taps line a wall behind the bar at Mortar & Pestle. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
  2. Is the Bundt cake back? How retro baked goods are becoming trendy again


    Once there were grunts and slumps, buckles and brown betties. Oh, and pandowdies and sonkers. In the olden days, people routinely made angel food cakes, tomato soup cakes and hummingbird cakes. These were not Duncan Hines mixes, but rather confections made from scratch following yellowed and stained recipes in your mother's or grandmother's slanty cursive.

    Desserts fall out of favor. The pineapple upside-down cake and baked Alaska of the 1960s were abandoned for the Black Forest cakes and chocolate fondues of the 1970s, which in turn were slain by creme brulee in the 1980s....

    Nothing Bundt Cakes on S Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa sells cakes in four sizes in a variety of flavors.
  3. Feeling mental fatigue after Hurricane Irma and other disasters? It's real.


    TAMPA — Blackness. Eyes closed or open, the same.

    Imperfect silence, a faint hum that might be the purr of tires on Nebraska Avenue or the susurration of your breath passing through ten inches of water and foam ear plugs.

    When your body stills you lose sensation of the water, that line that separates your submerged half from the half that rides above. It's floating in the Dead Sea, outer space, the womb....

    A Tampa Bay Times reporter in a sensory deprivation tank used for floating therapy at Sacred Floats & Gems Co. located at 6719 N Nebraska Avenue, in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, September 19, 2017. Floating therapy relaxes people because they experience a sense of zero gravity when they are inside the tank, which contains 150 gallons of water and 1000 pounds of medical grade Epsom salt. ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times
  4. A meatless burger that tastes like meat? Ciccio Restaurants will serve the Impossible Burger.

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — The most red-hot hamburger in the nation right now contains no meat.

    There are lines out the door in New York at Momofuku, owned by diehard celebrity-carnivore David Chang, at Epic Burgers in Chicago, at Umami Burger and at Bareburger locations.

    And starting Sept. 27, Ciccio Restaurant Group will be Florida's first partner bringing the Impossible Burger to Tampa Bay diners. The meat-free burger that tastes remarkably like meat will be available at Lodge, Green Lemon, Daily Eats, Ciccio and Better Byrd. Fresh Kitchen is the only Ciccio Group restaurant that won't carry the patty....

    A stack of raw meatless Impossible Burgers at Epicurean Hotel's Food Theatre. Impossible Burger is a plant-based burger that will launch on Sept. 27, 2017 in all the Ciccio Restaurant Group locations, except for Fresh Kitchen. "This burger caters to the carnivorous, not just the vegetarians" said Jeff Gigante, co-founder at Ciccio Restaurant Group. ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times
  5. 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....

    A scene from the 2016 Wanderlust 108 Festival in Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa.
  6. 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....

    Wright’s in Tampa has famed cakes, pies and sandwiches.
  7. 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....

  8. 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.
  9. 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)]
  10. 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....

    A cruise ship’s outdoor deck affords a sweeping view of the port of Havana.
  11. 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."...

  12. 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....

    Yogurtology, a family-owned and -operated company headquartered in Tampa, has been slaying with a new product. It?  s a cookie dough frozen yogurt sandwich. Picture edible cookie dough on the top and bottom (I’ve written about this trend recently, so they are totally on point), with frozen yogurt in the middle.  They concoct all types of sandwiches with various types of cookie dough and frozen yogurt flavors. Social media is loving these babies.
  13. 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....

    Oven-baked hummus is served with lavash bread at Bayshore Mediterranean Grill in Tampa.
  14. 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....

    Jason Cline, former executive chef at the Birch & Vine in downtown St. Petersburg, opened Hawaiian poke bowl kiosk Poke Rose.
  15. 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. ...

    The new Mezzanine Level Casino at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.