There are Doe’s in Little Rock and in Fayetteville, Arkansas, as well as Oxford, Mississippi, and their steaks are top-drawer; but there is magic about the original Doe’s in Greenville. Located on the wrong side of town in the back rooms of a dilapidated grocery store, it does not look like a restaurant, much less a great restaurant. Many of the dining tables are in fact located in the kitchen, spread helter-skelter among stoves and counters where the staff dresses salads and fries potatoes in big iron skillets. Plates, flatware, and tablecloths are all mismatched. It is noisy and inelegant, and service — while perfectly polite — is rough and tumble.
Doe’s fans, ourselves included, love it just the way it is. The ambiance, which is at least a few degrees this side of “casual,” is part of what makes it such a kick. Mississippians have eaten here since the 1940s; for regular patrons the eccentricity makes the experience as comfortable as an old shoe. Newcomers may be shocked by the ramshackle surroundings, but Doe’s is easy to like once the food starts coming.
Start with tamales and a brilliant salad made of iceberg lettuce dressed with olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Shrimp are usually available, broiled or fried, and they are very, very good; but it’s steak for which Doe’s has earned its reputation. “Baby Doe” Signa, son of the founder, tells us that it is merely “US Choice” grade, which, frankly, we don’t believe. To us, it tastes like the primest of the prime, as good as any steak we have eaten anywhere: booming with flavor, oozing juice, tender but in no way tenderized. The choices range from a ten-ounce filet mignon up to a four-pound sirloin. Our personal preference is the porterhouse, the bone of which bisects a couple of pounds of meat that is very different in character on either side of the bone. The tenderloin side is zesty and exciting; the other side seems laden with protein, as deeply satisfying as beef can be. With steak come some of the world’s most delicious French fries – dandy to eat “neat,” even better when dragged through the oily juices that flow out of steaks onto the plate.
Doe’s is not cheap; but it shouldn’t be. This unique combination of top-drawer steak and downscale atmosphere is priceless Americana.