Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.
Petra Cafe has long been one of my favorite lunch digs in Fayetteville. It inhabits a tiny, homey space nestled in an old brick just off the square on E Center St. Its a small operation, with only a counter and four or five tables that can make lunchtime rush hour seating tricky, as they are only open for lunch from 10:30-2:30. For a place with such a casual urban lunch counter vibe, Petra serves up tasty mediterranean and middle-eastern food that is both homey and exotic.
Petra has a myriad different combos and platters that serve every combination and permutation of hummus, tabbouleh, baba ganoush, foule, grape leaves, and pita imaginable. Though Petra’s food is simple, it abounds with rich flavor that calls to mind faraway sandscapes or sunny mediterranean beaches.
Let’s start with the essentials, pita and hummus. Petra’s hummus is a delicious, subtly nutty concoction that they heap generously on most all of their platters, and is served with a dash of olive oil and red chili flake. It is fresh, rich and thick. Their pita is sweet and soft, and leaves a faint trace of sweet white flour on your fingertips as if to prove its freshness. It provides the perfect vehicle for their hummus or babaganoush, subtle enough to be a perfect canvas for other sides and spreads, though flavorful enough to be a delicious dish on its own.
Foule, a delicious porridge of chickpeas and fava beans, is a zesty, hearty addition to any meal. It has a consistency somewhere between chili and hummus, with a mild nutty, beany flavor that complements any of Petra’s other sides. This stew provides a mildly spicy centerpiece for any meal, and is delicious on its own or scooped up on pita.
Not to be missed are Petra’s stuffed grape leaves, combining oil-soaked grape leaves with seasoned rice for an oily, savory side that’s all too delicious. They’re perfect paired with Petra’s tabouleh, a sneaky side that’s part grain, part salad. It combines hearty, nutty bulgur (a thick, round grain) with fresh chopped tomato, parsley, and I suspect, a hint of mint. It is a delicately herbal, yet still hearty side that is an excellent companion to any of Petra’s plates and platters.
One of Petra’s specialties is their grilled lamb. Sliced into traditionally thin, flaky strips that curl ever so slightly, their edges browned by the grill. It is crispy and moist, and delicious as is, or wrapped up in a soft pita with taziki sauce, a sweet, savory concoction of thick greek yogurt and dill. For meat lovers, I recommend the Gyros Pocket or the Mayo platter, both of which combine the best of Petra’s grill with Petra’s the best of their grains.
For those in search of alternative protein, the falafel is a must. The crispy patties of chickpea flour are seasoned with just the right amount of spice to make it delicious wrapped up in a soft pita, crumbled over a greek salad or dipped in hummus and eaten as is. Petra’s falafel is crispy, savory, soft and delicious.
You can’t leave without ordering the Turkish coffee and baklava. Coffee beans are simmered in a special Turkish coffee pot, for a strong (if not a tad sludgy) yet delicious brew. I’d add at least a cube of sugar, and a helping of baklava to round up the ultimate midday pick me up. Petra’s baklava is combines flakey, sweet layers of filo pastry with chopped nuts and honey. Served warm, it's the perfect not too sweet, simple and nutty dessert that acts as an excellent complement to the strong coffee. The baklava is flaky, light and hearty, a sweet that won’t weigh on you all afternoon long.
Petra is the perfect lunch, hearty and satisfying without the 3 o’clock food coma. The rotating selection of soups, stews, sides, salads and sandwiches is enough that I’ll never be bored, but is consistent in quality and flavor. Petra’s small but quaint interior downtown is unpretentious, giving it a truly local vibe that can’t be duplicated with trendy interiors and kitschy menu items. Petra is home away from home, serving up faraway comfort food for Fayetteville’s best lunch.