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

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/

Advertisements

Riding the Cross-Bay Ferry from Tampa to St. Petersburg

I had the pleasure of riding The Cross-Bay Ferry this past weekend from Downtown Tampa to Downtown St. Petersburg. It is perhaps the most innovative transportation solution I have witnessed in the Tampa Bay area and much needed.

crossbay2

The price is fair at $8 one-way for adults ($5 with student ID, military ID, or seniors) and the time of the actual trip is efficient as well, easily beating the amount of travel time you would drive from Tampa to St. Pete (probably even better if consider daily traffic on I-275 and I-4). You can also avoid costly hourly parking rates on both sides of the bay at the same time, especially when there are festivals and sports games.

The initial trip was a little confusing because we had to locate the departure point which is behind the outdoor bar area at The Florida Aquarium in Channelside (there was a sign outside the Aquarium that helped us locate it).

I think the website could better explain where you’re departing and arriving from and maybe include that information with your receipt/boarding pass.

Once we were on our way it was great though. There was plenty of comfortable seating available on-board and the outdoor deck was breathtaking.

The Cross-Bay Ferry is equivalent to a ferry you might board in a big city like San Francisco to get to Sausalito for a fraction of the price. I would hope that it can grow its use in the future and become a standard part of the Tampa Bay Area.

You get all the views of beautiful Tampa Bay for a great price and can get to the walk-able Downtown St. Petersburg easily. We saw Beer Can Island, The Manatee Viewing Center, skylines of Tampa and St. Petersburg, dolphins, birds, and more. The overall travel time was a little over 30 minutes with about 50 minutes total for boarding and disembarking.

A cool touch to add  for the future would be a captain or recording narrating the trip across the Tampa Bay area – pointing out key landmarks. It might be something that tourism bureaus on both sides might consider adding for tourists, even if its just one of those headphones you can listen to like at a museum. I knew most of the landmarks as a local and was pointing them out to friends myself.

Parking in Downtown Tampa is FREE on the weekends and there are several options in Ybor City for parking as well. Here are some tips for parking in Downtown St. Pete as well.

crossbay3.jpg

Food and beverages are available for purchase on the Cross-Bay Ferry as well like most ferry ships including alcoholic beverages for those of age.

crossbay4

I highly recommend riding the Cross-Bay Ferry and cannot wait to ride it again. Transportation solutions like this are what Tampa Bay needs to grow the region and make it a better place to live and visit.

crossbay1

FAQ:

  • Service animals are allowed on-board, otherwise a case-by-case basis for pets
  • Strollers can be accommodated with no additional fee
  • Restrooms are available on-board
  • No smoking is allowed
  • Luggage on-board is limited to 2 suitcases and 1 small personal item
  • The Cross-Bay Ferry runs 7 days a week except some holidays

Website: http://thecrossbayferry.com/

Kicking off Tampa Bay Pizza Week at Paul’s Chicago Pizza

Today I joined the new Food and Drink Editor for Creative Loafing Tampa, Jenna Rimensyder, for lunch at Paul’s Chicago Pizza in St. Petersburg to kickoff Tampa Bay Pizza Week. Tampa Bay Pizza Week is now happening until March 31st, 2019. Pizza specials are happening at over 30 locations and there is also $3 Peroni’s around town.

tbpw5.JPG

tbpw2.JPG

As a starter we ordered a Chicago Tamale, which I have never heard of in my life. It’s essentially cornmeal stuffed with meat. The presentation was a little weird since it was packaged in a plastic wrapped that seemed microwaved, but I had this feeling that we were embarking on some journey that we did not quite understand. I proceeded to add some hot sauce to this…probably breaking several condiment laws in the process.

tbpw1.JPG

We ordered the Spicy Italian Pizza ($10) that includes sausage, pepperoni, and giardinara. The pizza is a Chicago-style thin crust pie. This style has been vastly overshadowed by deep-dish pizza in recent years, but the minute I took a bite of the pizza I realized I have had this before.

The flavors reminded me of an old chain in Tampa called Windy City Pizza that served this exact pizza. Memories of my step-dad, step-sister, and IBC Root Beer came to mind almost immediately. This wasn’t a fancy pizza, but it was satisfying.

tbpw3.JPG

Personally, I did not find the pizza to be truly spicy at all (and I am somewhat weak), but actually just an enjoyable pizza. The portion was big enough for two people to share as a medium pie. I do recommend trying it.

tbpw4.JPG

Paul’s Chicago Pizza was a good experience and I would go back to try the deep-dish in the future and maybe switch-up the ingredients for the thin-crust pizza. They also have a location in Clearwater on North McMullen Booth Road that I would like to checkout.

Service was great and the pizza came out in timely manner. Our waitress was a sweetheart and very attentive. She gave honest opinions about menu items which was appreciated.

If you need ideas for where to eat pizza in Tampa checkout my guide to Top 7 Local Pizza Spots in Tampa and also check out Tampa Bay Pizza Week at TampaBayPizzaWeek.com.

Restaurant Name: Paul’s Chicago Pizza

Address: 11002 4th Street North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716

Phone Number: (727) 346-5180

Website: http://www.paulschicagopizza.com

 

Rise Rise Up Florida 2019 Music Festival March 15th to March 17th

Reggae Rise Up Florida music festival is Friday, March 15th to Sunday, March 17th at Vinoy Park in Downtown St. Petersburg. Enjoy 3 days filled with music, food, art, activities, and good vibes.

Up to 12,000 guests are expected to attend the festival each day. Limited tickets are still available for General Admission and VIP.

Headliners include Stick Figure, Slightly Stoopid, and Rebelution.  Other acts include Steel Pulse, Pepper, Common Kings, Ziggy Marley, Method Man and Redman, J. Boog, Tribal Seeds, Trevor Hall, Fortunate Hall, and more.

VIP tickets include an official Reggae Rise Up VIP wristband, expedited festival entry, access to the VIP Lounge, Reggae Rise Up festival lineup t-shirt, Reggae Rise Up festival lanyard, premium viewing areas, VIP area bathrooms, and sponsor swag.

Yoga fans can warm up for the music festival with special yoga sessions on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are currently $25 and now available.

Buy tickets: http://reggaeriseupflorida.com/tickets/

There are plenty of food vendors that are going to be at the festival including vegan options. Some menu items include fresh ahi tuna poke bowls, gourmet grilled cheese, jerk chicken, acai bowls, Hawaiian BBQ, gourmet crepes, churros, empanadas, and more so come hungry:

 

FAQ:

  • Festival totems, flags, and signs are welcome and encouraged.
  • Attendees are allowed to bring chairs and blankets to the festival to relax on.
  • The event is family-friendly and kids ages 8 and under are FREE. Strollers are permitted, but must be searched before entry.
  • Event is rain or shine

Event Name: Reggae Rise Up Florida

Venue: Vinoy Park

Address: 701 Bayshore Drive Northeast, Saint Petersburg, Florida 33701

Cost: $60+, Kids ages 8 and under FREE

Buy tickets: http://reggaeriseupflorida.com/tickets/

Ages: All ages welcome

Website: http://reggaeriseupflorida.com/

Event Map:

Guide: Where to spend New Years Eve 2019 in Tampa Bay

Looking to party the night away on New Year’s Eve 2019? I have you covered.

Here are some recommendations of events happening around town:

  1. New Year’s Eve Gala at Armature Works: Celebrate NYE 2019 at one of Tampa’s hottest spots this year. Armature Work changed what people view Tampa’s waterfront to be and opened the floodgates to a whole new part of town. Armature Works. 1910 North Ola Avenue, Tampa, Florida. $205+
  2. New Year’s Eve at MFA – 1st Annual: The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg is throwing their 1st annual bash to ring in 2019. Options include dinner or just partying the night away with special exhibitions available to guests and a view to Downtown St. Pete’s NYE fireworks display. Museum of Fine Arts, St. Pete. 255 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, Florida. $175+
  3. New Year’s Eve Pool Party at Postcard Inn: Those looking for a relaxing and chill NYE might opt for a casual night of beach-front fun at Postcard Inn on St. Pete Beach. Swim shorts not included. Postcard Inn. 6300 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach, Florida. No cover.
  4. 6th Annual Black Tie BBQ at Cafe Dufrain: New Year’s Eve is one of the busiest nights for restaurants as diners splurge on a special evening with warm wishes for a new year. Make sure to get your reservation in early. Cafe Dufrain. 707 Harbour Post Drive, Tampa, Florida. $45+
  5. New Year’s Eve at American Social Tampa: American Social has one of Tampa’s best waterfront views and is always a prime location for fireworks and displays on the bay. If you’re ready to party, American Social is ready to get down. American Social. 601 South Harbour Island Boulevard #107, Tampa, Florida. $150+
  6. Havana Heights: Mandarin Heights and Bodega Seminole Heights are joining forces to provide a Cuban-inspired affair with cocktails and delicious food flowing all night long. 5901 North Florida Avenue, Tampa, Florida. $100+
  7. NYE 2019 on EDGE Social Drinkery: Those looking to escape to a bar and chill can enjoy a casual NYE on top of the Epicurean Hotel in South Tampa. Drink specials all night. EDGE Social Drinkery. 1207 South Howard Avenue, Tampa, Florida. No cover.
  8. New Year’s Eve Tiki Fest at The Birchwood: One of the best spots in Downtown St. Pete on Beach Drive is offering a New Year’s Eve Tiki Fest this year to ring in 2019 with gourmet food and an open bar. Tickets are going fast so get yours soon. The Birchwood. 340 Beach Drive Northeast, St. Petersburg, Florida. $135+
  9. Party Like Its 1999 NYE Party at The Bricks: Take it back the late 1990s and 2000s at The Bricks in Ybor City to ring in 2019 for New Year’s Eve. Don’t forget your windbreaker. The Bricks. 1327 East 7th Avenue, Ybor City, Florida. No Cover.
  10. Punkcade NYE Party: Seminole Heights retro-gaming bar Lowry Parcade is having a punk-themed party for NYE 2019 with beat’em up games at the center of the fun. Plenty of games and fun all night. Lowry Parcade. 1213 West Waters Avenue, Tampa, Florida. No cover.

Christmas Day Holiday Meal at Castile Restaurant

Is there anything more Florida than Christmas Day at the beach? Celebrate XMAS 2018 with a holiday meal at Castile Restaurant located inside Hotel Zamora on St. Pete Beach at 3701 Gulf Boulevard. Castile will be offering a 4-course meal from 11:30AM to 8:30PM.

Reservations are encouraged.

Adults can enjoy the meal for $70 or spend $90 to include a wine tasting. Children ages 12 and under will cost $25. Bring your santa paws to their outdoor seating options. No need to leave your fido at home.

Some items on the menu: Grilled Octopus, Burrata & Tomato Salad, Pork Ossobuco, Seared Filet, Wild Mushromo with Black Truffle, and Maple Mascarpone Cheesecake with Candied Vanilla Walnuts. Just reading out the menu is making me hungry.

Call (727) 456-8660 to make your reservations. You can also make reservations at OpenTable.

CL Brunched this Saturday December 1st!

The cold weather is OUT this weekend and brunch is IN. Come out for CL Brunched this Saturday, December 1st, 2018 from 12PM to 3PM at St. Pete Shuffleboard Club (559 Mirror Lake Drive St. Petersburg, Florida). 

Enjoy great food, mimosas, bloody marys, complimentary shuffleboard, local craft vendors, and more.

Tickets are $30 in advance for GA and $55 in advance.

Buy tickets: http://tampabay.boldtypetickets.com/events/59571944/brunched-2018

Participating restaurants include The Peabody, The Melting Pot, Mini Doughnut Factory, Buddy Brew Coffee, Callaloo, Jannus Market, and more.

For more information please visit www.brunchedtampabay.com

St. Pete Asian Lantern Festival this Friday! FREE Admission.

The Gulf to Bay Food Truck Association will host the first St. Pete Asian Lantern Festival this Friday, November 3rd from 6PM-11PM at Albert Whitted Park, Downtown St. Petersburg, in collaboration with Carlos Eats and the City of St. Petersburg, Florida.

The event is FREE to attend. Food trucks will accept cash and most major credit cards.

The first 400 guests will receive a complimentary Asian folding hand fan. 400 lanterns will be spread around the event for your enjoyment. Live music will be performed by Acoustic Thunder (Covers 50’s to current). Tampa Taiko and a Lion Dance Troupe will be in attendance at the event.

Adult beverages will be available for purchase.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Parking information:

These lots will be available in addition to Downtown St. Petersburg garages:

Albert Whitted Parking (adjacent to the event) – Take 1st Street SE. to Dali Blvd

Dali Museum Parking – Take 1st Street SE. to Dali Blvd

Al Lang Parking – Corner of 1st Street SE & 1st Ave SE

Participating food trucks: 

Participating dessert trucks:

What: St. Pete Asian Lantern Festival

Venue: Albert Whitted Park, Downtown St. Petersburg

Date & Time: Friday, November 3rd, 2017, 6PM-11PM

Address: 480 Bayshore Dr SE St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Cost: FREE To attend

Facebook RSVP: http://www.facebook.com/events/1858715594391995/

St. Pete Beer & Bacon Fest – 1/21

Craft beer and bacon fans can rejoice on January 21st from 12PM-6PM at the St. Pete Beer & Bacon Fest in Vinoy Park.

15384374_1571850969508546_6175118121992810387_o

General Admission is available to guests ages 11 and older for $15 pre-sale and $20 on the day of the event and does not cover beer or food costs.

Beer Sampling Admission for ages 21+ is $35 in advance and $40 the day of the event and includes unlimited beer samples from 2PM-6PM, but does not include food.

Sonny’s BBQ VIP Admission for ages 21+ is $75 for pre-sale with limited tickets available and includes a variety of features including Sonny’s BBQ appetizers and unlimited beer sampling with limited small batch beers in VIP tent.

Buy tickets: http://stpetebeerandbacon.com/tickets.html

Children ages 10 and under are FREE.

This food and beer festival will showcase over 80 beers from local craft breweries and samplings of bacon dishes from local chefs and restaurants. Some things on the menus include bacon sirloin meatballs with smoked porter BBQ sauce, bacon beer cheese mac, house duck bacon, BBQ bacon waffle burgers, and more.

Live music will also play throughout the day.

A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Pet Pal Animal Shelter. The Pet Pal Animal Shelter is a non-profit organization helping stray animals get adopted and medical attention.

15895541_1610406062319703_66508174539332459_o

15896306_1605606622799647_7446176738606573807_o

15698191_1597428570284119_4560955507538275804_n

15774911_386081368405133_972595171494177800_o.jpg

Restaurant/Food Vendor Participants (prices will range from $2-$4):

  • Sonny’s BBQ
  • Nico’s Kitchen
  • Craving Donuts
  • Carmel Kitchen
  • Vanchetta Rolling Rotisserie
  • Jolly Porker
  • Sweet Life Cupcakes
  • The Twisted Iron
  • BCA BBQ
  • Taste Time To Love Us
  • I Wanna Wok
  • Prime 19
  • Healthy Heritage Grass Fed Beef
  • Jimmy’s Slider Truck

Menus: http://stpetebeerandbacon.com/food.html

Event Schedule: http://stpetebeerandbacon.com/schedule.html

Brewery list:

  • Big Top Brewing Co.
  • Big Storm Brewing Co.
  • Bold City Brewery
  • Coppertail Brewing Co.
  • Darwin Brewing Co.
  • De Bine Brewing Co.
  • Kona Brewing Co.
  • Florida Avenue Brewing Co.
  • Hidden Springs Ale Works
  • Motorworks Brewing Co.
  • Mad Beach Craft Brewing Co.
  • Magic Hat Brewing Co.
  • Pair O’ Dice Brewing Co.
  • Rapp Brewing Co.
  • Sea Dog Brewing Co.
  • Shipyard Brewing Co.
  • Southern Tier Brewing Co.
  • SweetWater Brewing Co.
  • Tampa Bay Brewing Co.
  • Silverking Brewing Co.
  • 3 Daughters Brewing Co.

Interested in volunteering? Check out this link: http://www.signupgenius.com/go/409054cadad2fa0fc1-stpete