Petra and the Beast--a New East-Dallas Staple

One recent Sunday, we were in the mood to try something new. None of the usual spots seemed to fit the bill, and we were eager to branch out a little bit. We also wanted to try a new BYOB spot, which isn’t so easy to find in Dallas (unless you want Thai). We ran across a great option via the Facebook page of a chef/friend we really respect, who posted a wicked-looking cocktail from the night before that we just had to try. Located in a converted 1932 Sinclair gas station, the new spot was called Petra and the Beast. No menu was available online, but we found a couple pictures of a chalkboard menu that looked promising, so we thought “let’s go.” We liked it so much, we recommended it to friends, and decided to plan an impromptu wine dinner there a couple of weeks later. The second visit may have been even better than the first!

We’re not going to lie—Petra is a bit outside our normal stomping grounds. We live in a “transitional neighborhood” in East Dallas, but Petra is quite a ways further south than that. Surrounded by a dirt parking lot, we were still impressed by how neat the building looked both outside and in. We loved the dried herbs hanging from the ceiling, and the fancy pressed-tin ceiling original to the building. When we were there for Sunday brunch, we were the only people that had managed to find their way in. Other peoples’ hangovers sometimes work in your favor! When we were there for Friday dinner, it was BUSY! Plan accordingly.

Helmed by Chef Misti Norris (formerly of Small Brewpub), and with the help of Josh Harmon (formerly of Junction Craft Kitchen), Petra exemplifies local / foraged ingredients that are fresh, fresh, fresh. While the restaurant initially operated as a pop-up concept, it is now open Wednesday-Friday, and Sunday, 12:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., and Saturday (12-course tasting menu only), 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. It focuses on unique ingredients and preparations, pickling of both veggies and meats, smoked pork and beef, and home-made condiments like its soon-to-be-famous house-made spicy mustard. Petra brings in a whole hog to butcher each week, and crafts and cures multiple kinds of sausage, responsibly using everything God intended for you to eat.

When we walked in for Sunday brunch, we asked about the cocktail we’d seen from the night before—a sort of clearish, tomato-infused drink with tomato jam and ground pork cracklins lining the rim—basically a white summer Bloody Mary with a basil garnish. Two were quickly brought to the table for us to enjoy. They were absolutely delicious. If you didn’t already guess, the tomato jam on the cocktail rim was made in-house. Of course.

Ordering from the chalkboard menu—which changes daily—we decided to go with a tasting menu of sorts for each trip. Texas tomato salad, a charcuterie plate, braised pig tails, and, of course, the ham hock terrine were our choices on the first trip in. On our second trip in, we repeated the charcuterie and braised pigs tails, but also tried the deep fried chicken hearts, the beef tartine, the mushroom-stuffed pasta, the zucchini pasta, and their country loaf—essentially the best reuben sandwich we’ve ever had. They all turned out to be fabulous choices that left us satisfied, but not miserably full.

Everything is made to order, and comes out in little cardboard boats that allow the extremely small staff to focus on cooking, not cleaning up after guests. Served with plastic silverware, this restaurant is made to celebrate taste over traditional restaurant luxury.

Since Petra is BYOB, we decided to branch out on our first trip in and bring a bottle of 2013 Rollin Michael Soles (RMS) Willamette Valley Sparkling Wine. Crisp, acidic, and fruity, with notes of pear, peach, apricot, and light notes of toasted bread, it was a fabulous pairing for all the dishes we enjoyed at Petra. If you ever run in to an Oregon sparkler, you should definitely try it out! On our second trip in, our group (along with friends that came in later) brought in thirteen different bottles of wine—fun times were definitely had (no worries--we all used Uber or Lyft). The favorites were probably the Merry Edwards pinot, the 2003 Vina Tondonia Reserva Blanco, and all of the bottles from Kosta Browne.

Texas Tomato Salad It had extremely fresh and flavorful tomatoes, mixed with a parmesan pudding (essentially parmesan, boiled with heavy cream until it gets to a pudding consistency), a deep-fried crumble of biscuits that were baked for the 12-course dinner the night before, and topped with basil grown in Chef Norris’ home garden. It was fresh, acidic, rich, salty, herbal, and simply unctuous. One of the best caprese salads we’ve ever enjoyed.

Charcuterie The dill-cured ham was wonderfully different, the hot pastrami coppa was rich and indulgent, and the pork rillettes were delightful and rustic. Then, you got to the chicken liver mousse. What a treat. Fresh, savory, earthy, salty, delicious. Mix everything with a small pinch of the thick and extremely hot mustard dabbed on the board, and you have heaven folks. Pure pork heaven. Few chefs can hand-make charcuterie like this. Anywhere in the United States. Chef Norris succeeds where some Michelin-starred restaurants in much bigger cities we’ve been to fail. She’s really doing something special with cured meat in East Dallas. It was excellent both times we enjoyed it!

Braised Pig Tails This is served with sour pickled cabbage or potato, fig leaf jelly, and dead flowers, sometimes with a pork-cracklin’ chip. We’ll be honest, we’re not 100% sure where the dead flowers came in (maybe mixed with the white fig-leaf jelly?), but this was just a delicious dish. It was served a little differently each time we visited, which kept things fresh and fun.

When asked why she used pig tails rather than pork belly, she responded that she wanted something rich and tender that melted in your mouth, but was still “porky.” She rightly said that pork belly often ends up tough and chewy when it is properly braised—which was something she wanted to avoid. Having run into the same problem at multiple (now closed) local restaurants we won’t name here, we completely agreed with the choice. The cabbage (top) and pickled potato (bottom) were good, acidic, counterpoints to the richness of the pork. And the seeds (top) and pork cracklin (bottom) provided a bit of crunch, which countered the soft fat of the pork. And, don’t think Petra’s pig tails are actually made of “tail.” It’s basically a tasty chunk from the backside of a bootylicious pig, and it is absolutely delicious! Both versions were excellent!

Ham Hock Terrine The ham hock terrine is served with a soubise (onion and butter) sauce, mustard greens, sorghum, and smoked mushroom. Breaded and deep-fried, there’s no other word for this dish other than scrumptious! The bitterness of the mustard greens, mixed with the buttery-oniony goodness of the soubise, cut into the richness of the tureen itself. And the popcorn added a fun, salty, textural element we’ve not really seen on dishes in DFW before. Overall, the dish was porky, well-balanced, with the right amount of acidity, and utterly wonderful.

Deep Fried Chicken Hearts Having tried chicken hearts as a kid (and not liking them because of how gamey they were), we were sceptical we would like these. We were wrong. Battered and deep fried in a crust infused with herbs, and served with a crema and a lightly-acidic salad, these were the perfect stuffing for the little pieces of flatbread served alongside. Yes, they were still a little gamey. But in a rustic, hearty sort of way. Everyone devoured them so quickly, we had to get two more orders.

Beef Tartine We’re always a bit sceptical of eating beef tartar at a restaurant—mostly because Natalie’s tartar is phenomenal, and generally better than the version on the menu. But this was excellent. Served on a generously-thick slice of home-made crispy bread smeared with a lightly-spicy aioli, this was excellent. Flavorful and rich, but with pickled notes breaking up the monotony, and hints of spice from the aioli, this was a fantastic effort that reinvigorated an often-mediocre classic.

Mushroom-Stuffed Pasta Stuffed with mushrooms, sprinkled with a little porcini dust, and served with a light and simple sauce that only lightly coated the pasta, topped with wild mushrooms, this was a great pasta dish. The pasta was hand-made, and filled with lots of wild mushroom stuffing. It didn’t leave you with the heavy feeling you get from some home-made pastas, because the pasta was both thin and expertly made. Great effort!

Zucchini Pasta This was a simple and elegant dish. Plain, wide-noodled pasta was paired with ribbons of lightly-blanched zucchini, with just a hint of a thin cream sauce added to the mix. Deep-fried bread crumbles added just a hint of texture. It was plain tasty. That’s really all there is to say.

Country Loaf This may have been the star of the entire dinner for us. Served between two thick slices of well-toasted bread, the shaved ham, melted cheese, and pickled greens all blended together perfectly to make one think you were eating the perfect reuben. Even though it really had none of the traditional reuben ingredients. Move over Katz’s Deli. This country loaf is the real deal.

We highly recommend Petra and the Beast. It's authentic. It's fresh. It's quirky. It's everything East Dallas has needed for a long time. If you want to support a true locally-focused restaurant, come here as often as you can. It only seats 20, so you’d better hurry before others catch on. Because she's now announced Petra has moved from pop-up to permanent.

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