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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. The last farmer of Florida's prized Zellwood corn is thinking of packing it in

    Consumer

    MOUNT DORA

    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....

    Workers harvest cucumbers at Long and Scott Farms in Mount Dora, Fla., on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. The farm, owned by Hank Scott and his father Frank Scott, specializes in Scott's Zellwood Triple-Sweet Gourmet Corn but also grows other crops. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. Six new restaurants opening this summer: Burgerim, Rocco's Tacos, American Social

    Food & Dining

    OPENING SOON

    Feeling a little peckish? You're in luck, with a big raft of new restaurants poised to launch, including three at International Plaza.

    BURGERIM

    In the fast-casual arena, Burgerim is opening in late July at 800 N Franklin St., Tampa. The concept is mini burgers, so you're not eating just one. You can buy a duo (wimp), trio or 16-pack of gourmet 2.8-ounce patties and customize each one with three different buns, five signature sauces, 10 patties and nine toppings. Okay, so think turkey burger on a gluten-free bun with pineapple, lettuce and tomato, or a merguez burger on a Burgerim signature bun with house sauce, jalapeno and sunny-side-up egg. The chain currently operates more than 80 restaurants in the United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Israel, Romania and Russia, with more than 200 openings slated for 2017....

    In the fast-casual arena, Burgerim is opening in late July at 800 N Franklin St. in Tampa. The concept is mini burgers, so you won’t be eating just one.
  3. Restaurant review: Tampa wine bar Cru Cellars also a worthy spot to indulge in sophisticated plates

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA -- One of the joys of writing about businesses in a particular market over a long period of time is watching some of them find their footing, mature and blossom. Cru Cellars has seriously come into its own.

    Jen Bingham, a certified sommelier, opened her little wine shop and wine bar in the Palma Ceia neighborhood some years back. Her focus was small-production wines from all the major wine production regions, mostly family-owned wineries with a real emphasis on wines under $50 and with special attention to wines made naturally (organic, biodynamic, etc.) There was a little bit of food early on, mostly cheese and such....

    The dining room at Cru Cellars in Tampa.
  4. Datz mixologist Morgan Zuch heads to national bartending competition

    Food & Dining

    WONDER BURGER: DATZ DOES IT

    News from South Tampa comfort food titans Datz has been winging around the internet this week with the debut of their Amazon Warrior Burger in honor of the release of the new Wonder Woman movie. Not sure how this is precisely a tribute to Gal Gadot, or even Lynda Carter, but the burger features two patties and three sourdough buns in red, blue and gold, topped with white cheddar and American cheese stars that make the entire creation look reminiscent of the old-school Wonder Woman costume. Plus, it has superhero accessories such as lettuce, tomato, onions and sliced pineapple (no lasso of truth). Datz will be serving the monster burger, priced at $20, from June 2 to 4. The new Wonder Woman movie arrives in theaters June 2....

    Datz’s own Wonder Woman, mixologist and general manager Morgan Zuch, was the first woman to win a Star of the Bar regional competition and heads on Sunday to Nationals in Chicago, where she will reprise her winning cocktail, the Perky Peach.
  5. From gourmet pops to sherbet, here are the best alternative cool treats in Tampa Bay

    Food & Dining

    When I was a child, summer treats meant one thing. Baskin-Robbins, or Batman and Robin's, as my superhero-obsessed kid brother misheard. Sure, there were 31 flavors, but usually the choice was between a couple of stalwarts, a perfect sphere balanced atop a sugar cone (reliable heartbreak: licking the ball off its perch and onto the hot pavement under my flip-flops).

    It wasn't until years later that I focused on all the other sweet glories that keep one cool during the dog days. Slurpees and their brain freezes, Bomb Pops offered up indifferently by the Good Humor man, even the DIY glories of frozen Dixie cups of Kool-Aid (some folks called them flips)....

    The flavors of gourmet popsicles at The Hyppo: (from left) pineapple cilantro, bourbon peach and ginger dragonfruit.
 LARA CERRI  |   Times 

  6. Eating ramen with Japanese pop-punk band Shonen Knife in Tampa

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA

    Punk rock and ramen. Who knew they're nearly a peanut-butter-and-jelly-level match up.

    The Japanese pop-punk band Shonen Knife released their 20th studio album in 2016. In support of that album, Adventure, and deep into their 2017 USA Ramen Adventure Tour, they swung by Ichicoro Ramen in Seminole Heights before their May 6 show at the Orpheum in Ybor City and I got to slurp noodles with them while fan-girling, hard....

    Members of Shonen Knife — from left, original members and sisters Naoko and Atsuko Yamano and new drummer Risa Kawano — enjoy ramen at Ichicoro Ramen in Seminole Heights before their recent Ybor City show.
  7. Restaurant review: Ocean Hai on Clearwater Beach is pretty, but the food needs finesse

    Food & Dining

    CLEARWATER BEACH

    The modern restaurant is frequently described as a by-product of the French Revolution — hundreds of food service professionals in the royal household and homes of the aristocracy all of a sudden needed to find something else to do when the cooks' guilds were abolished. But there were public eateries going back as far as ancient Rome and the Sung Dynasty in China. These were mostly for travelers, frequently associated with inns or hostelries....

    Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach opened Ocean Hai in February.
  8. Here's where to take Mom for high tea this Mother's Day

    Food & Dining

    Afternoon high tea is about as Mother's Day-appropriate as it gets. Little pinkie extended. One lump or two, Mother dear? Care for a watercress sandwich? The Tampa Bay area has a number of places to take the lovely lady for an afternoon of crumpets and such.

    The Royal Tea Room & Gift Shoppe

    (2719 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 837-3000) was really the first tea room of its type in Tampa, established in 1996 in this location and expanding twice to accommodate the enthusiastic tea-drinking hordes. Part shop (heavy on the Vera Bradley), it is the go-to setting for an afternoon elevated indulgence, complete with flavorful teas and a three-tiered caddy with scones, savory bites and delicious desserts. Traditional afternoon tea is served Tuesday to Saturday with seatings at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. by reservation. ...

    TeBella at the Oxford Exchange serves tea in a beautiful glass conservatory. And if mom is more the java type, you can also get Buddy Brew coffee.
  9. Restaurant review: Three brunch places to take Mom on Mother's Day

    Food & Dining

    Forget what the M, O, T, H and E stand for. On Sunday, the ''R'' is for reservations. The busiest restaurant day of the year, Mother's Day brunch is a serious tradition for many families, love and gratitude meted out in waffles and eggs over easy. Certain restaurants reliably fill to capacity — Oystercatchers at the Hyatt, Marchand's at the Vinoy, the King Charles Ballroom at the Don CeSar — but there are plenty more Mom might enjoy. What follows is a handful of Tampa Bay restaurants that might expand her horizons this Mother's Day. (In other words, you may still get in to these places even if you forgot to make that "R.")...

    Bootleggers Toast at Thirsty First in St. Petersburg is three poached eggs, tomato, basil, olive oil, balsamic reduction, queso fresco and avocado smash served with toasted points.
  10. Accusations of pushing, nasty texts and unpaid bills cloud Oldsmar's Suegra Tequila Cantina

    General

    An Oldsmar restaurant that was supposed to put the city on the culinary map and cement a personal turnaround for an acclaimed celebrity chef is now mired in conflict.

    With accusations of physical attacks, nasty texts and unpaid bills, it's a particularly contentious look into the inner life of the restaurant world as more celebrity restaurants vie for space in the Tampa Bay market.

    Todd Hall, the Boston chef hired to create the concept of Suegra Tequila Cantina on Tampa Road where City Fish Grill was, is out. After one week of service, owners Craig and Matt Vario reached an impasse with Hall and he was relieved of his responsibilities and the locks were changed....

    A duck taco recipe created by chef Todd Hall for Suegra Tequila Cantina on Tampa Road in Oldsmar. Courtesy of Todd Hall.
  11. Florida female chefs struggle to break through in a male-dominated field

    General

    OCOEE — Famous San Francisco pastry chef Emily Luchetti stood in an open-sided barn at Lake Meadows Naturals and rattled off a troubling statistic: Less than 20 percent of restaurant kitchens are helmed by women.

    While most of the guests recognized Luchetti from her Great Chefs appearances, she had come to Florida for an event with other female chefs, all of whom understood her message....

    Passed appetizers of chicken liver mousse with rhubarb jam are served during Women in the Kitchen: A Celebration at Lake Meadow in Ocoee, Florida on Sunday, April 23, 2017. During the event dozens of diners ate passed appetizers and four courses from a team of 10 female chefs from all over the country. Proceeds from the event benefitted both the James Beard FoundationÕs Women in Entrepreneur Leadership Program and the Women in Culinary Leadership Program. EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times
  12. Where to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in style this weekend

    Food & Dining

    GETTING IN CINCO: CINCO DE MAYO

    Hey you there, with the taco in one hand and the tippy, salt-rim margarita in the other. Before you get to celebrating May 5 a lo grande, please explain why we're celebrating. Mexico's Fourth of July? Buzz. Thank you for being a contestant and we have some lovely consolation prizes for you today. • Mexican independence from Spanish rule was declared Sept. 15, 1810. The Cinco de Mayo in question happened 52 years later on the morning of May 5, 1862, when 5,000 poorly outfitted Mexican soldiers walloped the French and traitor Mexican army of 8,000 at Puebla, 100 miles east of Mexico City. It's remembered as the "Batalla de Puebla." And although the Mexican army was eventually defeated, the battle became a symbol of Mexican unity and patriotism. • Okay, now you can take a sip and get to partying....

    We know all you really want is a classic margarita and some chips and salsa.
  13. Restaurant review: Gengiz Khan Turkish Grill serving up a wide variety of attractive Mediterranean fare

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA

    Ergin Tek must get tired of saying, "It's not Genghis Khan, the Mongol invader. It's Gengiz Khan."

    His Turkish restaurant is named for his father, Gengiz, and a khan is like a Turkish inn or place for caravans to stop along the Silk Road. Some of his customers already know this: He spent 12 years in a small storefront not far from MacDill Air Force Base. Many of his regulars, in fact, are military folks who have been stationed in the Middle East and developed a passion for kebabs, baba ghanouj and tabbouleh....

    Dishes at Gengiz Khan Turkish Grill in Tampa include, clockwise from left, the surf and turf kebab platter, watercress salad and Mediterranean dipping platter. The menu is big, with lots of shareables, and the drink list is long.
  14. Mezcal, tequila's smoky cousin, is on the rise. Here's why.

    Bars & Spirits

    Go to YouTube and type in "eat the mezcal worm." I'll wait.

    There are about 2,000 results, many of them not-so-sober folks wincing as they choke down a segmented gusano rojo or a chinicuil worm. (Best video: the scene from Urban Cowboy where the creepy ex-con character Wes Hightower tips the mezcal bottle until the worm is in his mouth and then flicks it forward and crunches it between his teeth.)...

    Red Mesa Cantina in downtown St. Petersburg carries almost 100 kinds of mezcal. Mezcal is produced only in Oaxaca, Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Michoacan and Puebla in Mexico.
  15. Dining Planner: The Dinner Series at Rooster & the Till, Cuban Pete

    Food & Dining

    Culinary conversation: The Dinner Series

    Quick: What do chefs complain about most? Not the long hours. Not the heat. It's the isolation from their peers.

    Frequently chefs, even high-profile chefs, are shackled to their kitchens 100 hours a week, with little time to kibbitz with compatriots or try each other's grub. Which perhaps explains why a bunch of them have had the same good idea: guest chef dinner series. Rooster & the Till in Tampa is unveiling a doozy of one....

    Clockwise from top left are chefs Noel Cruz and Branden Lenz of Tampa’s Ichicoro, Maximillian Petty of Eden Hill, Michael Gulotta of Mopho and Maypop, Gabe Erales of Dai Due and George Sabatino of Aldine.