Everyone in a certain part of the country (and other parts, too) knows Doe’s: the steaks are legendary. They make all the Top Ten Best Steaks lists, and they’ve won a James Beard Award. Yet when you ask the folks at this Greenville, Mississippi institution what makes their steaks so special, they’ll shrug and tell you the meat is “just regular choice meat, nothing special. It’s the way we cook them.”
There’s no secret to the method. It’s right there when you walk into the restaurant. Seriously: walk in through the front screen door and you’re in the kitchen– or the part of it where the steaks are cooked.
Just to the left of the door is the grill, where steaks are thrown under the 1000-degree plus broiler to get a hefty, deeply flavorful crust. These steaks could turn a vegan. The night we went (and most nights these days, I think) Little Doe was working the grill.
Walk past the grill and into the first– let’s call it “area”. Most of the room is taken up by the kitchen where non-steak food is cooked and plated. Along the other wall, just across the counter, is a line of tables. Behind that are more tables, and then the back dining room.
We sat opposite the cooking area, right up against a side door to the outside that is no longer used and is jimmied shut.
Did I mention that Doe’s is in a rough neighborhood?
Long after our bellies were so full our waistbands cried for mercy; long after we’d drunk the last of that bottle of wine (procured thanks to a nearby patron who showed Ebo the way to the nearest safe liquor store); long after I’d snapped pictures of cooks and chili and steaks and giant cowboys; we wandered the 50 feet or so toward the door, a trip that took us a good ninety minutes.
We met an official Friend of Doe’s, Hank, and chatted with him a bit; took photos of the grill and eagerly followed Little Doe into the store room to see the equipment and parchment wrapped tamales. As we were soaking it all up (and I was clicking away), a thin, grey-haired fellow wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a happy crooked smile wandered through the front door, holding yellow and purple pansies in front of him with one hand and a Styrofoam cup with the other.
“Hey, take my picture!” he half-begged with a crooked smile. I did, and as he gingerly walked in circles, someone pointed out to me that he had a big wet stain on the front of his pants. Now I understand where the expression “piss drunk” comes from.
This is the south, where story-telling is an art form practiced by all. No sooner had I had my little epiphany then Little Doe told me “piss drunk” was nothing, and I should see what went on here.
When the nearby casinos want to reward a player having an especially good night, they might give him a chit for a good steak dinner at Doe’s. Steaks at Doe’s don’t come cheap, so not many players are given a chit. But the ones who do get them– well, sometimes these lucky players have been celebrating their success so heartily they forget that the world might be better off if they didn’t get behind the wheel of their car. They drive over to Doe’s to claim their big, fat juicy steak. Other guys might be drowning their losses the same way, and they might wander into the area, grumbling and growling and looking for trouble.
Back when Doe (senior) was working the grill, a guy just fell right through the front door, onto the floor, right at Doe’s feet. The fellow lay there, covered in blood: he’d been shot and was bleeding like something else. Doe shouted at him. “Get up, you’re messing my floor!” He hollered at him to get out of his restaurant, and offered this: if he gets up and out and stops gettin’ his blood all over the floor, Doe will call an ambulance. If he doesn’t get up, then Doe won’t do a thing. So the fellow does what any right-minded shot fellow should do: he heaved himself up and stumbled out. Doe made good on his promise and the fellow was soon taken away to the hospital.
I don’t know if you will see a piss drunk fellow on the night that you have one of the best steaks of your life. And I hope you don’t see anyone bleeding all over the floor. I will say I don’t think you need to worry much about your own safety; they’ve got a security guard by the door who will walk you to your car when the night is done.
Doe’s Eat Place
502 Nelson Street
Greenville, MS 38701
For more information about great places to eat and drink along the Mississippi Delta, be sure to see my award-winning story, now available online, in Every Day with Rachael Ray.
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