Petra Café in Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) from Petra Cafe

By
Julia Comino, VRG Intern

It
is no secret that finding vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants in the
rural American South can be quite the feat. Having been a vegetarian for the
past four years and a Hattiesburg, Mississippi resident my entire life, I have
made it my mission to seek out plant-based dining in my area. While often my
search has led me to make the trek to the advertised vegan restaurants of New
Orleans and other larger cities or into whole-food groceries, I was excited to
stumble upon the Petra Café in my own hometown.

Petra
Café is a small business dishing out authentic Mediterranean and Greek meals to
Hattiesburg locals with a variety of vegan and vegetarian options. The
Hattiesburg location is just minutes from the University of Southern
Mississippi, and although this restaurant’s exterior is not immediately
remarkable, any local can attest to the restaurant’s uniqueness. After taking
just one step through its doors, one is met with the heavenly aroma of spices
and simmering flavors. The interior is vibrantly decorated with traditional
Middle Eastern art and elaborate wall designs. Combining the indoor and outdoor
tables, there is enough seating for approximately 50 people.

Although
indoor dining has recently been reopened for Petra Café, I opted to order using
their limited-exposure pick-up option. I was able to easily place my order
online, using their website’s ordering option that clearly labeled which items
were vegan, vegetarian, Halal, and gluten-free. Although there are multiple
dishes that contain meat on their menu, with the removal of the Grecian sauce
or feta cheese, most vegetarian dishes can be customized to be vegan. I only
had to wait 15 minutes after ordering, and then my food was ready to be picked
up. As I entered the restaurant to receive my meal, I was pleasantly welcomed
by the employee at the counter. During our polite conversation, she remarked
that Petra Café was like a family and mentioned her appreciation for the
restaurant’s owner.

Petra
Café was founded in 2007 as the brainchild of Ayman Al-Bataineh. Having moved
to Mississippi from Amman, Jordan, Ayman decided to share the flavors he loved
from his mother’s kitchen with the residents of Hattiesburg offering up
traditionally veggie dishes such as Baba Ghanouj and Dolmas (stuffed grape leaves).

For
my order I decided to try Petra’s hummus appetizer. This thick, creamy,
chickpea dip was accompanied by slices of warm, freshly made pita bread. The
hummus was topped with roasted chickpeas, a drizzle of lemon, a sprinkling of
spice mix, and a sprig of cilantro. To fully enjoy this wonderfully composed
classic I recommend incorporating each component of this dish into one
flavorful bite. 

For
my entrée, I chose Petra’s Falafel Sandwich. This item was composed of toasted
pita bread stuffed full of homemade falafel (a crispy chickpea fritter),
tomatoes, lettuce, and a generous spread of tahini and hummus. This sandwich
requires two hands and biting into the packed pita is quite an accomplishment.
Although I only tried a few items from their wide selection of flavors, I was
more than satisfied by the portions of my meal.

Petra
Café’s exuberant atmosphere and the exceedingly well-crafted traditional dishes
offered have ensured me that I will become one of this restaurant’s regulars. I
must admit, I have been back once already since my initial visit. Should you
find yourself in Hattiesburg, Mississippi anytime soon, make sure to stop by
Petra Café for amazing veggie Mediterranean and Greek flavors.

For
more information about Petra Café, visit: https://petracafe.net/

For
more information on vegetarian and vegan restaurants around the United States
and Canada see our Restaurant Guide at: http://www.vrg.org/restaurant/index.php

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