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WEPA! Cocina de Puerto Rico St. Pete is a trip down memory lane

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Full disclosure: I was invited to WEPA! Cocina de Puerto Rico to try their food and received 50% off my bill in exchange for feedback about my experience. Opinions below are my own and do not represent WEPA! Cocina de Puerto Rico or any affiliates.

I visited WEPA! Cocina de Puerto Rico recently for dinner. It is owned by Jean Totti of St. Pete Foodies, a former architect who is of Puerto Rican descent. The recipes from the restaurant are his family recipes that have been handed-down generations, I was interested in seeing how this would compare to my experiences growing up in a Puerto Rican household.

Appetizer sampler at WEPA St. Pete

We started off the meal with appetizers: tostones, yucca fries, and alcapurrias (on-special). You can get 2 appetizers for $ 12 or 3 appetizers for $ 15. This makes this a fair sharing platter, but not really something that makes sense if you are dining alone or in a small party.

A few tostones are given for approximately $ 5 or $ 6 (if you do the math) which is a high price-point for a typical side dish that is generously plated in most Spanish restaurants. The actual flavor of tostones was great, it was probably the closest I have enjoyed to my Mom’s home-cooking which is difficult to match.

Good tostones require a very thin crispiness that comes from being twice-fried, unripe green plantains, and just the right amount of salting. WEPA made them well and I give them credit for that, I do think more should come for the price-point. I wouldn’t mind paying $ 4 or $ 5 and getting a full tray of tostones instead.

As for the alcapurrias, excellent flavor – these were so good! Alcapurrias are normally made with green plantains and taro root. I think this should probably be a regular side dish on the menu. The portion for this was also quite small, I have been to plenty of restaurants where you can get a huge portion of alcapurrias for just a few dollars.

Yucca fries at WEPA Cocina de Puerto Rico St. Pete

The favorite of the appetizers was the yucca fries. Yucca fries are so good, hearty, crispy, and delicious. More restaurants should put this on their menus. I was drawn back to the days of Mobile Munchiez food truck, a Spanish and Italian food truck, which used yucca in most of their dishes.

Yucca is such a great and underutilized starch. I would actually consider ordering these on my own just as a general side dish. The mayo-ketchup and dipping sauce were both excellent, you’d be surprised how many restaurants fail at that.

One thing that made me happy was the availability of Malta India at WEPA. I love Malta and it has surprisingly become harder to find in some restaurants after Hurricane Maria drove the price up on it. Malta completely disappeared from some grocery store shelves after the tragedy. It is certainly an acquired taste, but one that belongs with Puerto Rican food.

Dinner dishes at WEPA Cocina de Puerto Rico St. Pete

For the main courses we ordered Chicharrones de Pollo ($ 14) and Pernil Asado ($ 14). Both these dishes are popular dishes in Puerto Rico and most people who are Puerto Rican have grown up with them.

Chicharrones de Pollo at WEPA St. Pete

The Chicharrones de Pollo ($ 14) is certainly a shining star on this menu. The flavors brought familiarity to my Grandma’s cooking growing up. She loved frying food despite my mother’s misgivings about the healthiness of it all and there is nothing like a perfectly fried piece of chicken (especially living in the south). Despite the perfect crispiness and taste, I found myself wishing there was more meat on the actual pieces used. It can be a little difficult depending on shipments to get this right, but the flavor was certainly there.

The sides to the dish were the disappointing part. WEPA was out of arroz on gandules, a staple of Puerto Rican food and the white rice they subbed it with did not compare at all in flavor or match the food well. The pinto beans were way too salty, which was a big contrast to the rest of the food on the menu that seemed undersalted. I would recommend adding some table salt and pepper to the tables so guests can adjust accordingly. Beans are such an important staple to Latin cuisine that I hope the beans will improve in the future.

Pernil Asado at WEPA St. Pete

Next was the Pernil Asado ($ 14), a dish I know all too well. The pernil was on the drier side, although there were some good seasonings on top and a sauce underneath. The key with pernil is to allow the meat to soak in the juices you can want to flavor it in and use a good amount of sofrito in it to push up the flavor. The pernil was certainly better than some other restaurants and cafeterias I have eaten it at around the bay, but still not quite worth ordering again. The rice and beans were the same as the Chicharrones de Pollo so it seems that the chef is intentionally making their beans salty.

Flan de Vanilla at WEPA Cocine de Puerto Rico St. Pete

Finally, for dessert I chose the Vanilla Flan ($ 6). This flan was actually quite incredible and perfectly made, better than I have had at most restaurants in Tampa. It was just the right amount of sweetness and texture was perfect.

Everyone likes to brag about their flan and desserts, but most places are just “okay”, not the case at WEPA! I wouldn’t mind taking my Mom there to try the dessert, I feel like she might be impressed. The dessert was a nice ending to the meal, and although I tend to shy away from desserts nowadays, I would order this again.

Service was satisfactory, the server regularly stopped by for refills and checked on guests in the dining room. The dining room is small so in the interest of driving up sales, I would consider adding some more high-end steaks or more appetizers that are both easy to execute for the kitchen and can be sold at a fair price-point.

The restaurant closed quite early at 9PM on Wednesday Night and a party arrived 3 minutes before closing and was still seated, which is great from a customer service point-of-view, but certainly not something any server or cooks likes in this business and that matters when talking retention.

I think there is tremendous potential for a restaurant like WEPA! to serve up excellent Puerto Rican food and the flavors were all relatable to my childhood and family experiences. There is so much people still don’t know about Puerto Rican food and culture. Some things I would think about featuring in the future are pasteles, pastelón, coquito (literally WEPA!), bacalaitos, I could go on…the important thing in restaurants though is for people to feel like they get a value for their food so that customers become regulars and positive word of mouth spreads and I hope they consider this in all their pricing and portioning.

My impression was that WEPA is still figuring things out which is okay for a new restaurant. They seem to be taking customer feedback and applying it and I think they can have a very bright future as a leader of this food in Tampa Bay.

I recommend giving WEPA! Cocina de Puerto Rico a try. Like so many of us, it isn’t perfect, but it’s out there working hard to provide quality cuisine to the masses and I respect and support that.

WEPA is located next door to 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg, which is great for hungry craft beer fans. I hope they will join forces and plan some dinners together – I would like to see more beer pairing dinners with Puerto Rican food as the star. There is so much potential. We’ll have to see what happens right?

Restaurant name: WEPA! Cocina de Puerto Rico

Cuisine: Puerto Rican

Cost: $ $

Address: 2149 3rd Ave S Unit #6, St Petersburg, FL 33712

Phone Number: (727) 420-7832

Website: http://www.wepastpete.com/

Carlos Eats

April 6, 2019 |

Miami officials should leave La Placita Puerto Rico mural in place

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The other day I saw a story by James-Beard Award-winner Carlos Frías at The Miami Herald about a new restaurant called La Placita which features a giant Puerto Rico mural. The restaurant painting is a tribute those who have made the move to Florida after Hurricane Maria and settled into Miami, according to the owners.

When I saw the story, I was impressed that Miami is welcoming the Puerto Rico transplants so well…considering all the hardship that has occurred since Hurricane Maria wiped the country killing over 3,000 people and making over 100,000 abandon their homes for the United States and leaving those that remained in Puerto Rico in the dark for nearly a year.

People in the United States can barely stand a few hours without air-conditioning, electricity, cell phone, and internet service. Imagine going through that for an entire year (and some people may still not have power).

Hurricane Maria was one of the worst natural disasters to ever happen in history to a country that is a U.S. territory and colony to boot.

Most of it can be traced back to FEMA and reckless disaster preparation and response by the current federal government in the United States (just read Chef Jose Andres for more on that). Nevertheless, the survivors persisted and found new homes and are still rebuilding their lives.

Later, the story quickly changed after the opening date of the restaurant. Now Miami officials are telling the owners to paint OVER the mural since apparently they did not get proper permits before painting a giant Puerto Rico flag over their restaurant and the historical association there is fuming about it not fitting the neighborhood.

How is it possible that Miami was unaware that there was a GIANT Puerto Rico mural being painted in this neighborhood? Give me a break. Haven’t the people of Puerto Rico been through enough? Why doesn’t Miami cut them a break?

One of the most international cities in the country should understand that many of these people now living in Miami are refugees of a horrible situation that has displaced them from their homes.

Can they have just this? I know I was planning to go down to Miami from Tampa to visit this restaurant just to see this painting and I hope it will still be there when I get the chance.

It’s the least we can do for those who have suffered so much.

Sign the petition to support them.

Carlos Eats

December 30, 2018 |

Celebrate World Food Day October 13th – Help Fundraise for Puerto Rico

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Celebrate World Food Day 2017 on Friday, October 13th. Fundraisers will be held worldwide for Puerto Rico relief with World Central Kitchen. World Central Kitchen is a “group of chefs creating smart solutions to hunger and poverty”. It is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Restaurants and Chefs are coming together for a cause with a number of them pledging to donate 10% of their proceeds on this day to World Central Kitchen.

Chef Jose Andres and his team are doing great work in Puerto Rico helping feed the hungry who have lost access to food due to Hurricane Maria. His efforts continue and this day of fundraising is meant to unite chefs for this cause.

Ciccio Restaurant Group in Tampa Bay has pledged to participate. Their restaurant group operated Ciccio / Water, Daily Eats, Ciccio Cali, Green Lemon, Better Byrd, The Lodge, and Fresh Kitchen. I’ll keep you updated on any restaurants I find in the area participating and also update on social media as well.

It’s not too late to be a part of this effort. Restaurant signups are still being accepted and can be done at: http://www.worldcentralkitchen.org/restaurant-sign-up-wfd/

Find a full list of participating restaurants at: http://www.worldcentralkitchen.org/world-food-day/

Let’s come together for Puerto Rico!


Carlos Eats

October 7, 2017 |

ViVa Tampa Bay Hispanic Heritage Festival – Puerto Rico Donation Drive

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Looking for somewhere to donate supplies for Puerto Rico and Caribbean relief and those impacted by Hurricane Maria this weekend in Tampa?

This Sunday, October 1st, 2017, ViVa Tampa Bay Hispanic Heritage Festival will take place from 11AM-6PM at Centennial Park in Ybor City. The event is a FREE and family-friendly art and culture festival that will celebrate latin culture and food along with live music performances from local bands. The event is presented by Rumba 106.5.

The event celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month which is an annual celebration from September 15th to October 15th in the U.S.A.

It celebrates “the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America”. It began “in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988”.

There will be a “Veterans Thunder Alley Booths” to show case a number of Veteran non-profit organizations. These organizations will interact with our community and share their personnel stories and how they are helping our Veterans and first-responders in Tampa.

The event will serve as a drive for Course of Action PR which is organizing for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. They have processed 2.5 million lbs. of supplies and over 600,000 lbs. of water for Puerto Rico, but there is still more to do.

List of supplies needed:
Rice
Beans
Canned food/non-perishable food
Nutrition bars
Tuna packets (not canned)
Drink boxes/packets (juice boxes)
Baby supplies (bottles, diapers, baby wipes, formula, cereal, shampoo, baby lotion, baby powder, etc.)
Small and large generators
Adult diapers and supplies for the elderly
Regular wipes
Water purifiers
Water purification kits
Manual can openers
Clean/new gas cans
Dog/cat food
Personal hygiene/bath care items
Medical supplies (bandaids, peroxide, bandages, etc.)
Paper towels
New Towels
Cots
Air mattresses
New Pillows
Blankets
Toilet paper
Hand sanitizers
Flashlights
Batteries (AA, C, D, 9V)
LED work lights
Walkie talkies/two way radios
Rope
Bailing wire
Tarps
Long extension cords
12V to 120 volt power inverters
MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat)
Solar panels for charging batteries
Cell phone chargers
Basic tool kits
Shovels
Hand saws
Power saws
Chainsaws
Drills
Mosquito repellent
Duct and electrical tape

The organization says they have enough clothes and water at this time.

You can donate to Course of Action PR at their main base at 4916 S. Lois Avenue, Tampa, FL from Monday to Saturday from 11:00AM-7:00PM.

Event Name: ViVa Tampa Bay Hispanic Heritage Festival

Venue: Centennial Park

Address: 1800 E. 8th Ave., Tampa, FL 33605

Date & Time: Sunday, October 1st, 2017, 11AM-6PM

Cost: FREE to attend

Website: http://www.vivatampabayfestival.com/

Facebook RSVP: http://www.facebook.com/events/276418779433950/


Carlos Eats

September 29, 2017 |

Hurricane Maria: Tampa Bay Helps Puerto Rico Recover

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Hurricane Maria smashed through Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm yesterday and wrecked much of the island. It is the first Category 4 Hurricane to hit Puerto Rico since 1932 according to ABC. The entire country lost power and it could take weeks to months for the power grid to recover after already being hit by Hurricane Irma.

That means over 2 million people have no power in the United States commonwealth.

Puerto Rico is already in a delicate state and filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. This kind of infrastructure damage will no doubt complicate things for the people who live there. The minimum wage in Puerto Rico was reduced from $ 7.25 to $ 4.25 an hour as a part of this bankruptcy crisis due to a U.S. plan called PROMESA in 2016.

This will certainly impact the ability of people to recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.

The Puerto Rican communities around Florida have mobilized to get supplies to send to the people in Puerto Rico impacted by the storm. Shipments of supplies are already being accepted in Puerto Rico starting today. Here is where you can donate supplies around Tampa Bay:

The Prestige Barbershop of Tampa Bay
(Monday to Saturday from 11AM to 7PM)
105 US-301 #109
Tampa, FL

Los Gorditos Bar & Grill
(Tuesday to Saturday from 12PM to 9PM)
6110 Causeway Blvd.
Tampa, FL

La Fondita de Leo in Clearwater 
(Monday to Sunday from 11AM to 9PM)
528 Cleveland Street
Clearwater, FL

Suggested donations:

• Water
• Canned milk (UHT or Carnation) or box milk
• Canned food
• Flash lights
• Candles
• Batteries (C,D,DD)
• Dog and Cat food (small bag)
• First-Aid items
• Mosquito repeal sprays (ex. OFF)
• Wipes
• Diaper
• Formula
• Baby food
• Bottles
• Cleaning items
• New underwear for men and women
• Blanket
• Towels
• Baby onesies

Local food truck The Cake Girl has setup a fund as well for people to donate to at: http://www.youcaring.com/hurricanevictimsinpuertorico-956986

 

Any tips on other places to donate? Shoot me an e-mail at carloseats[at]gmail[dot]com.


Carlos Eats

September 23, 2017 |
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