There's a Puerto Rican kitchen called WEPA! taking shape in St. Petersburg

Anticipated dishes include mofongo and arroz con gandules.

click to enlarge WEPA! owner Jean Totti's handwritten family recipes go back three generations. - Courtesy of WEPA! Cocina de Puerto Rico
Courtesy of WEPA! Cocina de Puerto Rico
WEPA! owner Jean Totti's handwritten family recipes go back three generations.

Traditional Puerto Rican cuisine is headed for St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District. Scheduled to open in mid-February, WEPA! Cocina de Puerto Rico is the brainchild of owner Jean Totti, who was born and raised on the island in the Caribbean Sea.

Totti’s handwritten family recipes, which go back three generations, have inspired the new restaurant at 2149 Third Ave. S.

“WEPA! (pronounced weh-pah) is a word of jubilation commonly used by Puerto Ricans,” he said in a statement. “It is normally spoken.”

Growing up, Totti spent many afternoons in the kitchen with his mother, aunt and grandmother, and that’s where he believes his passion for food originated. He and his father also used to frequent the public market, bringing home fresh ingredients from butcher and vegetable stands.

“This legacy is the inspiration for our menu,” according to Totti. “Today, we are drawn to ingredients from local markets, such as in the centuries old tradition of visiting Santurce’s Plaza del Mercado.”

As such, diners can expect Puerto Rican street food items, known as “picadera.” But other anticipated dishes include mofongo, arroz con gandules, paella and chicharrones de pollo.

“Working with these recipes for months, we’ve selected a range of dishes that will represent our culinary history,” Totti said.

WEPA! is in the process of finalizing construction. The restaurant plans to serve lunch and dinner between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily.

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