Mention the Karoo village of Nieu-Bethesda near Graaff-Reinet to most people and they’ll probably nod and say, ‘Ah yes, the Owl House.’ But there’s more to Nieu Bethesda than that. And once you’ve had lunch at Antie Evelyne se Eetplek, you’ll have a totally different experience to remember the village by.
Antie Evelyne Olifant’s restaurant is actually her tiny front yard, with a sinkdak over the whole thing to provide shade. It seats maybe fifteen or twenty people and you have to wiggle your chair around to find a flat surface on the uneven ground. You might find yourself sharing the space with other guests from South Africa or overseas, but you’ll definitely share it with her small dog, which lazes quietly and thumps its tail every now and then.
With help from friends, neighbours and family members, Antie Evelyne will produce a feast of boerekos from her tiny kitchen. On the day we visited, there was a yummy chicken pie for starters, complemented by French and beetroot salads. The main dish was a huge plate of Karoo lamb chops, roast potato and caramelised pumpkin, all delicious. Also on the table were some freshly made small vetkoek, which I enjoyed as dessert with homemade apricot jam, even though a canned-pear-and-ice-cream dessert was offered.
Don’t come here if you’re used to nouvelle cuisine and expensive, exotic ingredients stacked in architectural little towers. But if you enjoy good old home cooking and the chance to meet the locals and support their efforts at upliftment, you’ll be as charmed as we were.
Get Antie Evelyne talking and you’ll discover there’s a sweet sadness underlying her smiles. After she lost two sons in the same year – one killed in a drunk-driving accident and the other shot dead – she admits she lost herself for a while before giving herself to her Lord. Now she manages her little restaurant to make money, runs a free soup kitchen from her home, and tries to keep the township children out of trouble with alcohol, drugs and violence.
She has also taken over caring for a young girl of about seven or eight with a troubled background. After lunch, the youngster sings one or two religious songs for us, eventually joined by Antie Evelyne. Even the dog wakes up and briefly joins in. I can’t say it’s like listening to Jackie Evancho or Sibongile Khumalo sing, but it’s done with a sweet earnestness that is hard to fault.
Need to know
Find Antie Evelyne se Eetplek at 4 Kloof Street, Pienaarsig, Nieu Bethesda. The cost for a meal is R100 per person and you should book ahead by phoning 083-873-5526. She also runs a basic B&B for R100 per person per night. It may not be five-star, but it offers good-hearted old-fashioned hospitality and a chance to support small community business.
Other things to do in Nieu Bethesda
- Visit the weird and haunting Owl House and Camel Yard created by Helen Martins and made famous by Athol Fugard’s The Road to Mecca. Tel 049-841-1733.
- Have a lazy lunch of craft beer and a cheese platter at The Brewery and Two Goats Deli, or simply taste the different beers (and gingerbeer). Tel 049-841-1602.
- Find Jakob van Staden and his donkey karretjie (tel 072-987-9831) in the shade of the pepper tree opposite the Owl House and go for a lazy ride around the village. Kids will love it. A ride costs R50 for adults and R20 for kids.
- Visit the Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre next to the Owl House to learn what South Africa was like 253 million years ago, in the Permian Period. Take a short walk with a guide to find fossils in the riverbed. Tel 049-849-1733.