Perhaps the biggest surprise about Petra and the Beast's casual chalkboard menu is eating your way through it and discovering that the dishes equal or even surpass what's served on the restaurant's $125 tasting.
Stroll in on any Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Sunday — when Petra turns into a noon-to-9:30 p.m., counter-service operation — and choose among the list of Snacks, Noods (noodle dishes), Meatums (charcuterie), and Desserts. Every bit of it is made in-house, and, except for the $30 charcuterie board, all of it is $15 or less.
Our large order — including hot and cold dishes, and charcuterie — was ready in about 15 minutes, even with chef Misti Norris using tweezers to assemble many of the items. You can eat there, in the low-key dining room, or perhaps better yet, ask for everything to go. You'll leave with a crisply sealed brown bag stacked with takeout boxes, each holding a beautifully presented, complex dish. Opening them is one surprise package after another, and the menu changes frequently to reflect Norris' whims and what's in season. Here are five of our favorites from the current menu:
1. Charred Texas carrots ($12). Carrots are just the beginning in this artful tumble of baby greens, black beans, torn pickled egg, and ribbons of belly cotto, dressed in a piquant vinaigrette made with burnt carrot tops.
2. Pig tails ($12). Soft, almost candied chunks of pig tail (braised in sweet tea) get sharp counterpoint flavors and textures: thin disks of pickled purple potato and shards of crunchy puffed rice dusted with burnt onion.
3. Crispy chicken hearts ($10). Perhaps the most surprising dish of all. Chicken hearts are marinated in sake lees, battered and deep-fried, and served with peppermint pistou, fresh farm cheese, and kale leaves. Layer them on a tiny chive pancake for a kind of Korean-Southern-fried taco.
4. Spiced goat farfalle ($11). Bowtie 'noods in a Moroccan-spiced goat sauce made beautiful (and delicious) with savory seed brittle, purple basil, and dabs of basil pudding.
5. Wild Card. Ask if any dishes from the tasting menu are on the chalkboard. Last week, it was Milk Cake ($9), a tres leches cake made with whey and figs.