Tucked behind Whole Foods in Mt. Pleasant, Betty’s Eatery is a breakfast and lunch joint, with a promise to “take you back to your grandma’s kitchen.” It does not stink of boiling cabbage and there wasn’t so much as a single TV playing an overly loud game show, but I guess everyone’s grandma is different.
The extensive menu is displayed behind the counter and starts with breakfast on the left. The Betty’s chicken and French toast ($12) came highly recommended by the friendly girl taking our orders. The fried, boneless chicken breast arrives in a thin breading flavored with thyme. Slightly overcooked, it’s accompanied by two huge, eggy slices of brioche-based French toast. Lightly spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon, they’re accompanied by sweet butter and real maple syrup. Although it turns out I prefer the more traditional variation with a waffle, this is an adequate substitution.
Two words that I am willing to bet never once came out of my grandma’s mouth are Croque Madame ($10). At Betty’s, the French classic gets a Southern makeover — with acceptable results. Two slices of brioche are filled with Swiss cheese and a massive portion of thin-sliced ham. This grandma replaces the nutmeg-dusted bechamel with a deluge of salty Mornay, then tops it with a sunny side up egg with an intense cranking of black pepper on top. The love child of biscuits and gravy and a Croque Madame, it’s pretty clear Betty is one of those grandmas that just wants to feed you. And then feed you some more.
The space itself is bright and cheery, with yellow banquettes and 1960s hits playing overhead. The young women working the counter were equally sunny, and almost make up for the DIY approach. Not for everyone, Betty’s has opted for a fast casual vibe, with a list of chores like counter ordering, self-service coffee, and cleaning up your own dishes when you’re done. Presumably this saves on costs or maybe Grandma just wants everyone to pull their own weight, but careful plodders first encountering the expansive list of choices can really slow a line down during busy periods.
In addition to house-made biscuits with gravy ($7) or shrimp and grits ($14), Betty’s offers an array of omelets ($8-$9) and burgers ($6-$9 for a single patty, $10-$12 for doubles). On the sandwich side of things, there’s a cheese steak ($12) served on a grilled, buttered hoagie. Here, shaved beef and bell peppers are accompanied by onions so caramelized they’re as dark as the meat. That’s saying something, seeing as one side of the steak had been left on the flat top so long, it had developed a dark, hard sear. In a move I don’t quite get, American cheese is replaced with Mornay sauce and black pepper mayonnaise, non-traditional flourishes I could do without. Dry, yet overly lubricated with mayo, it’s forgettable at best.
In contrast, the shrimp po’ boy ($11) was a highlight. Served on the same nine-inch hoagie roll, six fried, breaded shrimp are accompanied by sweet pickles, Romaine lettuce, and some exceptionally under-ripe tomatoes. Dressed with a spicy remoulade possessed with a real kick, it’s a slight twist on the traditional that works.
The sandwiches are not large and most dishes are served a la carte, an approach that could leave bigger appetites wanting. Sides are $3 and range from French fries and coleslaw, to potato salad or mac and cheese. Of all the recent food trends, I’m happiest about the current, near-omnipresence of Brussels sprouts ($3), and this grandma is all over it. The side features five, halved sprouts that are well-seared outside, yet still borderline raw inside. Think fresh crunch mixed with crisp, fried leaves and you’re there.
A solid option for vegetarians and cheese lovers alike, the Caprese sandwich ($9) was one of the better sampled. Four thick slices of firm mozzarella — the kind that squeaks on your teeth — are served with a chiffonade of basil and some ripe tomato. Made with the ubiquitous hoagie roll, it’s a perfectly respectable sandwich, but some balsamic reduction or fresh, garlicky pesto wouldn’t hurt.
I ordered this with a side of ambrosia salad ($3), because, well, who can resist the food of the gods? Brace yourself, as Betty’s deities apparently like keeping it weird. Tangy AF and unnervingly fizzy, the strangest part was the large quantity of tiny acini de pepe pasta. Tossed with bits of pineapple and canned mandarin oranges, this quirky threesome is then — I’m guessing — folded with Cool Whip and perhaps sour cream, the results of which are sweet. And odd. And unexpectedly effervescent. Caveat emptor.
Neither strange nor carbonated, the roast beef sandwich ($11) is made with “Betty’s oven-roasted beef.” Hot damn, Grandma, this is perhaps where you should focus more energy. Better than most delis, the thin-sliced, rare meat is well-seasoned and served on sourdough bread spread with tangy horseradish and creamy dijon. Assembled along with lettuce, pickles and mayo, let’s get real, it’s a roast beef sandwich. However, if Betty were plying me with a thick slice of that roast beast and some mashed potatoes, I wouldn’t say no.
A cute, DIY dining option hidden in a busy strip mall, Betty’s Eatery is aiming to do a lot with a little. Although some of it works, I worry the large crowd of patrons eating outside at the adjacent Whole Foods may just prove that serving yourself is better left to lower price points. Nonetheless, with a charming ambiance, approachable menu, and an attempt to conjure the best of your grandma, things may work out just fine.