When Misti Norris decided to move her restaurant, Petra and the Beast, from its original location in a renovated gas station in East Dallas to the home of a former barbecue spot in Lakewood, she not only increased the size of her dining room significantly. She also gained a much bigger kitchen and two large smokers that were left behind. And rumor has it that something else got left behind, too.
“We’ve been told by the neighborhood — you know how this space is cursed?” Norris tells Eater Dallas. “If we made it in a 1932 gas station, I think we’re ambitious enough to make this work. I’m also not a very superstitious person.”
Adventurous diners around the Metroplex know Norris’s love for experimenting with textures and flavors on a plate, so having smokers is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s now more room for her experiments in pickling and fermentation and making sauces, spreads, and jams. And while Norris says she’s trying to go slowly with the menu so as not to overwhelm the staff or diners with options, she admits she’d grown bored with her opening menu before the first month was up.
“I’ve been looking and thinking about them for so long now,” Norris says, referencing the long windup to opening the new location. “It’s time for something new, and I’m ready for fall so I can put some heavier, more unctuous dishes on the menu.”
With a September menu change have also come a few additions. Petra’s “blue room” is now open; the private dining room will host tasting menu dinners on Friday and Saturday for $135 per person, with a wine pairing for an additional fee. The restaurant has also resumed offering its “Take Home the Beast” boxes, with a pizza special as the debut offering over Labor Day weekend.
And, Norris adds, the restaurant is looking to add brunch service in the coming months — done in the style of Petra, of course. “It’s not going to be your normal brunch, obviously,” Norris says. “Please don’t come in thinking you can add an egg whatever way onto whatever dish you want. Brunch will have our ethos behind it, and not everything needs a fried egg on it.”
One challenge that’s come with this move: Petra is known for serving food from small farms and ranchers — in fact, it is the only restaurant account for some of its suppliers. Sustainability, whole-animal and vegetable utilization from locally sourced places, and seasonality are the ethos that drive Norris’ work. However the number of plates the kitchen is creating has grown significantly, and some farms and ranches Petra has worked with can’t keep up. So Petra has had to evolve and adapt.
“If we can’t keep up with a locally sourced dish, it comes off the menu,” Norris says. An example is chickens and chicken livers sourced from 840 Farm in Waxahachie. Petra’s opening menu included crispy chicken hearts, marinated, smoked, and then fried — a dish from the original restaurant that Norris wanted to bring back as a nod to a “back-in-the-day” menu. But the farm couldn’t keep up because it only harvests about 100 chickens a month.
“To me, that really proves the importance of what the animals are dining on — are they free-range, how are they living, what are they finished on?” Norris asks. “840 has such a clean, buttery, delicious flavor that’s so different.” Substituting for another chicken was a pivot she was unwilling to make, preferring to rotating in different dish entirely with ingredients that meet Norris’s standards.
That is why it is easy to come in and have no two meals alike at Petra, even though the nightly menu is small.
Norris recalls that the original location was only meant to be a six-month pop-up that ended up lasting five and a half years. The massive kitchen at what the staff refer to as “new Petra” has meant more room to expand what kind of dishes Norris can serve, and added the ability to finally have an in-house bar and wine list, including many organic and biodynamic offerings. Simple additions like a big walk-in refrigerator make a huge difference— at its original location, they were using Igloo-style coolers to store everything.
What Norris doesn’t explicitly say — but the space and its decor, along with what the adventurous and clever menu convey — is that this iteration of Petra is destination dining. Norris remains as challenging as ever in her menu, but adding a chef’s counter, a more luxurious design, and even something as simple as a bar say this version Petra is opening itself up to the tastes of not just the so-called hippies and hipsters of East Dallas. It also demands the attention of Park Cities, Uptown, and West Dallas’s diners.
“Its going to be really exciting when we’re six months in and we’re utilizing all the stuff in the kitchen, at the bar, and doing tastings and you can see all of it working. That’s what I’m looking forward to,” Norris says.