Setting out to find Petra and the Beast is nothing short of an adventure. Located in an unassuming area of East Dallas, the restaurant is housed in a humble renovated gas station originally built in the 1930s. Because it’s surrounded by a vacated gravel parking lot and has no sign to alert passersby, I almost miss it. In fact, I do. I look, puzzled, at my mobile map and then at my friend who was going to be dining with me.
“Did I miss it? Do you think that was it?” I say as I whip my vehicle into a fast right turn and pull up to the crimson, Spanish-style gas station. There’s only one other vehicle resting under the concrete and stucco porte cochère—a good indication that the place isn’t completely abandoned—but I still have my doubts. The sun shines brightly on the front windows, making it difficult to see inside. I park my car and we make our way inside through a main door that looks like a side door. In an instant, the big secret is revealed: there really is a restaurant here.
Rustic farmhouse decor accents cement walls that have been painted white. My eye is naturally drawn to the gorgeous, floral-embellished crown molding and stamped tile ceiling. Drying garlands of flowers and herbs hang down among industrial light fixtures and the heady scent of wood smoke fills the room. Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” plays softly from the stereo system.
There are animal skulls filled with dried florals in muted shades of purple and red, sitting beside jars of fermented strawberries and strawberry top vinegar—which is exactly what it sounds like, the usually-discarded tops of strawberries floating in vinegar. It reminds me of an ofrenda, lovingly decorated for Dia De los Muertos, full of thought and care.
On the right side of the room, a waist-high shelf stands, lined with drinking glasses and a ceramic, teal pig, greeting guests with its head cocked. At the end of the shelf, sits a wooden box filled with fresh heads of garlic and a large refrigerator stocked with multicolored eggs, stacks of butter, giant glass bottles of water for the table and more interesting drinks, like the palate-cleansing sparkling yuzu. Two giant chalkboards command the front of the room, listing the chef’s daily specials. The menu changes as often as the ingredients that local farms deliver to the restaurant.
Behind the counter, in the bustling kitchen, is the demigoddess of fine experimental cuisine herself, the 32-year-old wheel breaker storming the Dallas restaurant scene with culinary sagacity, artistry and flair, the creative force behind the casual-fine counter-service concept Petra and the Beast: Chef Misti Norris.
Misti and her team are hard at work making fresh noodles, breaking down fish, meticulously plating dishes, and doing whatever else needs to be done to run the ship tightly and smoothly.
Misti believes in reducing food waste—as any responsible chef should—and bringing out the beauty in any and every ingredient. Farmers often come to her with an unexpected overabundance of a certain crop, and she’ll turn it into something new and irresistible, simultaneously supporting her community and caring for the planet. She’s a fearless genius in the kitchen.
Stepping out from behind the counter, Chef Misti introduces herself to us. She’s focused, confident and covered in tattoos. She’s the chef I dreamed of being when I was a kid.
“I’d shake your hand, but I’m covered in fish,” she says with a half-smile as she holds up her hands.
“No worries,” I reply, offering an elbow bump instead of a fishy handshake. Misti has accomplished a great deal in her life and spent more than half of it in the culinary world. She’s been a James Beard Award Semifinalist. She funded her restaurant entirely on her own, refusing to take money from anybody. The decorative skulls on the shelves? All once belonged to animals she had taken apart and prepared in dishes. The paintings—like a broken heart in the kitchen and a Chesire cat grinning by the window—are all her works. Soon, a local graffiti artist is coming to cover the rest of the walls. Her heart and soul rest in Petra and the Beast.
Petra and the Beast. Even the name sounds like something straight out of a fairytale. The word, “Petra” is derived from “petrichor,” referring to the warm, earthy scent of freshly fallen rain on dry ground. The dining room is pure magic through and through. From dishes to decor, it’s all Misti. If she didn’t forage for the ingredients herself, she sourced it from our local farmers. In fact, that’s the purpose behind all the jars of fermenting fruits, vegetables and exotic wild plants shelved around the restaurant: decor that’s soon to debut on your plate.
Having trained under Chef Matt McCallister formerly of FT33, now deep in his new concept, Homewood, It’s no wonder that the basis of her philosophy is farm, forage, fermentation and fire. She respects food and where it comes from, practicing nose to tail butchery, offal cookery, sustainability and food waste reduction. She even wears T-shirts touting the names of the farms the restaurant sources from.
Food just tastes better when you know where it came from and how it was sourced. We started with a “meatums” sample board of Spicy Lonza, which Misti cured herself, accompanied by fermented red cabbage, blueberry coffee compote, housemade mustard and crispy crackers flavored with celery seeds. Next came the warm field pea and tarragon sausage salad sprinkled with aged spring onion, and topped with a soft egg supplied by Cartermere Farms in Celina.
These composed dishes are where Chef Misti really shines, like the Windy Hill Farm goat and mushroom boraki, an Armenian style dumpling. It resembles a head of garlic sliced in half, only the cloves are warm, savory goat and mushroom meatballs carefully tucked in between sheets of al dente pasta. The boraki is placed in a smooth and flavorful smoked chili cream sauce and topped with crispy rice and tangy pickled okra.
My favorite dish of the day, however, is a bowl of crispy pig tails, sandwiching a layer of melt-in-your-mouth, flavorful fat. Combine that with sweet peach mostarda, tangy pickled leeks, preserved lemon, and onion blossom and you’ve got the makings of a truly unforgettable moment.
Misti masterfully combines flavors and textures, perfectly balancing them and always adding a surprise element to keep things interesting. Crunchy field peas and rice, sweet fruit compotes, tangy peach mostarda: all presented with painstakingly perfect detail.
It’s no secret that DFW is a hub for industries of all kinds. We thrive on education, technology, trade, defense and football—of course—to name a few. With all of this booming business, the “Silicon Prairie” is opening its arms to a multitude of newcomers daily. Forbes magazine stated in a recent article, “The Dallas metro division has the sixth-largest population in the U.S. with 4.9 million people.”
That’s a lot of people and a lot of opportunities to bring their own diversity of experience to our part of the country. We have the honor of being a multicultural hot pot—pun intended—and with that, brings all sorts of experimentations in fusion cuisine and barrier-crushing culinary concepts. Even in that environment, Petra and the Beast has been one of the most talked-about restaurants the metroplex has seen in a long time. You can walk in for a meal any Wednesday through Friday (BYOB), but Saturdays are reserved for their exclusive reservations-only tasting menu; reservations for these tastings open two months in advance, and usually book up within 48 hours.
Misti breaks all of the rules and leads us away from everything we thought was good and safe in the culinary world. She’s a witch doctor with an almost supernatural remedy for blasé dining and status quo dishes.
Close your eyes every time you take a bite. Make some crazy sounds. Enjoy the limitless offerings from the creative mind of Misti Norris and join the revolution of Petra and the Beast.