This little purple building, tucked away on Haskell Avenue in an old East Dallas neighborhood that hasn’t yet had its moment, carries a lot of history.
It was built as a Sinclair gas station in 1932, the same year that Sinclair trademarked its beloved dinosaur logo. The Texas Historical Commission notes that the gas company tried to fit into Dallas by adopting a “Spanish Colonial Revival” architecture style, and although the building is now a deep maroon, visitors can still see the tiles along the roofline and some quirky flourishes along the old garage bay doors.
In the 1980s, the gas station became a popular barbecue spot, Arnold’s, praised in Texas Monthly as “puredee Texan, right down to the Trail Beans.” After years as a catering kitchen, 601 N. Haskell Ave. is now a restaurant again — a casual hangout spot called Petra and the Beast, the temporary but exciting new laboratory of chef-experimenter Misti Norris.
Norris left her full-time job at Small Brewpub in September 2016, ending a genre-defying run cooking such unlikely bar snacks as alligator curry, Turkish dumplings, pork rillettes and chicken feet. Now, after a year and a half working at pop-up dinners and traveling across the United States, Norris has her own kitchen again. She calls Petra and the Beast “a compressed version of this idea I’ve had for a long time.”
That idea is a shop with lots of cured meats and fresh charcuterie, some noodle dishes and a small handful of tables for customers to pass the time and try a selection of new culinary inventions. The space’s historic patina — its original 1930s stamped ceiling is still intact, along with tilework in one bathroom — adds to the charm.
“The idea was always to have this be very small,” Norris says. “Very small, very small staff, very focused food. I want it to be a place where people are OK hanging out. You’re not rushed, I’m not trying to turn your table, you can wait around and try some more food.”
Petra and the Beast is BYOB, too.
Right now, the casual counter service happens at lunch and dinner on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday, with a special Saturday night dinner that’s $100 for a two-hour tasting menu with beer pairings by BlackMan Brewing. On the other days of the week, Norris’ menu divides itself into three sections: charcuterie ($5 each or $30 to try them all), noodles (“Noods”) and everything else.
The menu changes regularly based on available produce and which cured meat experiments are ready to try. When I stopped in during Petra’s first full week of service, the charcuterie included mushroom and peanut sausage, whipped lardo and culatello. We tried a few slices of smoked beef tongue, flecked with sea salt flakes, only subtly smokey and impressively good, especially with a dab of Norris’ not-messing-around spicy mustard.
The other dishes on that first visit included sacchetti, a type of Italian pasta that is more like a purse-shaped dumpling, filled with all the spare parts from a whole hog ($10). Topped with a slightly oily green sauce and pork cracklings, the dumplings are so big that each order only has four. We were even more taken with a salad of red beans and oyster mushrooms, an unlikely combination set into savory harmony by a lightly creamy dressing and rye croutons ($9).
The most peculiar bite — and not coincidentally one of Norris’ early favorites — was a portion of pig tails, crisp yet fatty, like a rebellious younger sibling of pork belly ($12). The pig tails came in a tray that admittedly looked weird: The “plating” consisted of balls of white, red and green. The red was meat, the white was balls of sticky rice and the greens were blisteringly tangy pickled mustard greens, almost too much to handle on their own but the perfect acidic foil to a fatty cut of rich pork.
There’s plenty more to try at Petra, and given how quickly the menu changes, regulars might be sampling different dishes each week. And Norris hasn’t forgotten her year working pop-up events: She plans to repay the favor by giving that opportunity to other rising talents who need a space to bring their foods to customers.
“It’s not necessarily a guest chef thing because they’re not cooking with me,” Norris explains. “I’m just providing them the space and equipment.”
The day we spoke, the young chefs Brock Middleton, Barton Sackett and Karen Montero were staging a dinner at Petra. (One young talent who will not be appearing at Petra after hours is former Junction Craft Kitchen chef Josh Harmon, whose plans to work out of the space received wide media coverage. Those plans have changed.) Norris says she is hosting other pop-up dinners because she understands how important the opportunity can be.
“I’m doing it because it would have been nice if I had a place like that," she says. I’m not going to let everyone in here, obviously, I have to trust them, but it’s something I wish I’d had a little more when I was doing things here. It would have made things a lot easier.”
There may not be much time for diners to enjoy Norris’ snacks and Saturday suppers or the occasional cameo appearances by other rising young talents. Petra and the Beast is tentatively scheduled to be open for just six months, at which point Norris and her landlord will reconvene to discuss the project’s future.
“I’ve looked at other locations, kind of weighed my options,” the chef says. “This building is growing on me. I love the neighborhood more than I thought I would.”
Petra and the Beast is, in its own inventive way, “puredee Texan.” More importantly, it’s a laboratory of cool culinary ideas that rejects any hint of pretentiousness. East Dallas ought to love it back.
Petra and the Beast, 601 N. Haskell Ave., petraandthebeast.com. Open for counter service noon to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday; Saturday night dinner by reservation only.
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