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Hot bar heaven: Betty’s Country Cooking

The One-Trip hot bar or All-You-Can-Eat bar are popular at Betty's Country Cooking in Columbia, Kentucky. Photo: Kevin Osbourn
Betty's Country Cooking also offers grilled food in addition to the hot bar. Photo: Kevin Osbourn
Home-made pies at Betty's Country Cooking, Columbia, Kentucky. Photo: Kevin Osbourn
Meet the management staff at Betty's Country Cooking, Columbia, Kentucky. Photo: Kevin Osbourn
The meat options on the hot bar rotate on various days. Photo: Kevin Osbourn
Betty's Country Cooking offers food from the grill as well as the hot bar. Photo: Kevin Osbourn
Betty's Country Cooking owner Betty Ollestad, front, Columbia, Kentucky, with team. Photo: Kevin Osbourn

It’s “more than just OK” 

The sign outside might say “Betty’s OK Country Cooking,” but customers are sure to tell Manager Kevin Kessler the cooking at this Columbia restaurant is “more than just OK.”

Betty’s, served by Taylor County RECC, celebrated its 30th anniversary in December and is owned by Betty Ollestad. Kessler and his wife, Arlinda, manage the restaurant, which has 25–30 employees.

The Kesslers were patrons of the restaurant before they ever thought about managing it. Then, in 2017, with the former manager about to retire, Ollestad had a question for them.

“That’s kind of how we got started,” Kessler says. “We were in there, and Betty asked us to help her with her restaurant.”

Ollestad ran the restaurant for many years, and the recipes used today are still hers—“They stood the test of time, so we patterned everything after that,” Kessler says.

The restaurant has an All-You-Can-Eat bar ($15.99), a One-Trip Bar ($8.99) and a Breakfast Hot Bar ($5.99). One fan favorite is catfish “that we bread and fry in the deep fryer,” Kessler says. Meatloaf and grilled roast beef sandwiches are also popular.

“On the hot bar, we’ve got roasted carrots and potatoes with hot roast beef ever other Sunday,” Kessler says. “It does really well. Chicken and dumplings on the hot bar on different days. Marinated grilled chicken is some people’s favorite, chopped steak with peppers and onions is some people’s favorite. Turkey and dressing is a big seller on Saturdays on the hot bar, served all year round!”

But the one dish Betty’s might be most known for? “A lot of people come here just for the pies,” Kessler says. Betty’s Famous Sand Pie, below, is a specialty. Whole pies can be ordered a day ahead for $16-$18, and a slice costs $2.59-$2.75.

Throughout the winter, most of the customers are locals, Kessler says. “In summer, when people are traveling, we have people from several different states who stop in. They find us on Google.”

Located off Highway 55, many customers are visiting Green River Lake or are on their way to Lake Cumberland, he says.

The Columbia community is important to the Kesslers, as well as the restaurant’s owner and namesake.

“Betty has always been a supporter of the community,” Kessler says. “That’s one of the things—besides the good home-cooked food and family atmosphere—that has kept her going all these years.”

Betty’s Country Cooking is open Monday-Saturday 5 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m.–3 p.m. (winter hours change slightly).

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