F&W Best New Chefs 2019: Misti Norris of Petra and the Beast in Dallas
That smell of rainfall on dry earth—you know that smell—has a name: petrichor. It’s the smell of spring in Texas when the soil is giving garlic mustard and daylilies and wild onions. It’s a smell that so captivates chef Misti Norris that she named her Dallas restaurant for it, modeled her philosophies after the word’s poetic spirit.
That restaurant, Petra and the Beast, lives within the bones of a 1930s filling station—a white-washed, tin-ceilinged box strung with dangling bundles of dried flowers. If the setting strikes you as spare, consider the rest: disposable flatware, an icebox packed with Topo Chico, and paper boats where china might have been. Lean in for the big reveal though: These populist trappings are a kind of Trojan horse, and Petra is a world-class restaurant in elaborate disguise.
“Farm, forage, fermentation, fire” is Norris’ ethos here, honed in kitchens like Anthony Bombaci’s Nana, Matt McCallister’s FT33, and David Uygur’s Lucia, where she first learned the basics of whole-animal butchery. The mantra shows up all over the chalkboard menu at Petra. Fermented radish greens add vinegary wallop to masa balls stained with minerally black pudding. Fried chicken feet wrap their crisp, gnarled talons around charred and raw beets and a tangle of wild dill. A pork tongue ragù catches in the ridges of perfect mafaldine noodles. Her charcuterie alone is worthy of a special trip, each slice, smear, and pot splitting the difference between tradition and innovation: a burnt-potato terrine, paprika-loaded ’nduja, the dreamiest chicken liver mousse paired with black cumin–spiked toast. “Our charcuterie is a bit out there,” says Norris, who dedicates about 85 percent of every local hog that comes in to these experiments. “I’ll cure meat with teas made with wild greens and flowers. It’s about pushing my boundaries and teaching myself through trial and error.”
Norris does a tasting menu every Saturday, but any other night you could order the entire menu here, devouring it at the single six-top in back and passing around BYOB bottles until Norris flicks the lights on. At Petra something extremely rare is unfolding: the chance to see a chef who is utterly free and also entirely in bloom.