British expats and Anglophiles may think authentic cuisine from the British Isles is hard to find around central Arkansas. If so, they haven’t been to Wee Betty’s Café in Jacksonville.
Scotland natives Catherine Lee and her daughter Nicola O’Hara opened the spot three years ago with two goals in mind — to serve authentic dishes from their homeland and to make everyone who walks through the door feel like family.
I can vouch that they’re succeeding at both.
On a recent visit, as I sampled my first-ever bowl of Scotch Broth Soup, we chatted about the European Championship soccer tournament, the pending Brexit vote, how to make a cup of tea correctly and my British husband’s Heinz Salad Cream addiction. (He puts the stuff — a kind of coleslaw dressing, mayonnaise combination — on everything, and even runs a Facebook fan page for it.)
Wee Betty’s menu is full of British favorites — think fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, mushy peas, scones, potato fritters, and bangers and mash, along with a handful of assorted desserts. Everything is homemade, from scratch.
The Full Irish Breakfast is a big favorite. O’Hara said it’s called an “Irish” breakfast, instead of “Scottish” breakfast because most of the products that they can get ahold of are actually from Ireland. Again, they take authenticity seriously.
Lee and O’Hara said most of their clientele are British expats. The biggest compliment they get, Lee said, is when an expat touts their dishes as just like home.
How the two Scots came to own a café in Jacksonville is a curious story. Lee, originally from Glasgow, met her husband who was in the U.S. Navy while he was stationed in Scotland. They spent 25 years moving around the U.S. and back and forth to Scotland, and have been in Arkansas for 12 years now.
While working at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Lee regularly made sausage rolls — also on Wee Betty’s menu — for office potlucks, and everything went from there. Lee said the restaurant has helped combat homesickness.
The menu features many family recipes. The Scotch Broth — which is not made with whisky, Lee joked, but barley, carrots, turnips and leeks in a beef broth — was from her mother, Betty, the restaurant’s namesake. (Betty was 4-foot-9, Lee said, and a “firecracker.”)
They chose Jacksonville because of its location near Little Rock Air Force Base, where they hoped to attract military spouses from the U.K. Central Arkansas also has a prevalence of British nurses. However, now the pair is looking to move to Little Rock.
O’Hara said over the next 18 months or so, they plan to make the move, and will likely take on a new name.
In addition to their daily menu, Wee Betty’s offers a Sunday roast featuring roast beef, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and more fixings. They also cater and have a tearoom that can be reserved with a 24- to 36-hour notice for tea parties.
Another big draw is the storefront full of candy, chips (or crisps, as the Brits call them), and other impossible-to-find imports. They have also launched their own line of frozen British favorites, like scones, sausage rolls and more, which they sell at the shop.
Wee Betty’s is a fantastic friendly spot to stop in for “a wee cuppa tea and a blether,” as their tagline says, as well as some authentically hearty British dishes.
Wee Betty’s Café
9B Crestview Plaza, Jacksonville
Hours: Wednesday-Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Monday and Tuesday