When I first met Tom and got to know him, he talked about different places and food he had experienced, and one of them intrigued me like no other. Doe’s Eat Place is a legend in Greenville, Mississippi, so much so that Hillary Clinton was a regular when she was the first lady of Arkansas.
It began life as a reverse-discrimination Speak Easy, where poorer people came in the front door right into the kitchen, and in the back of the house, lawyers came for steak and fresh-cut fries. Soon the word got out among the lawyers, and the restaurant blended into one, serving two completely incongruous signature items: Hot tamales (Delta-style), and steaks with fresh-cut fries.
Many years have passed since Tom first told me about Doe’s Eat Place, and I still plan to make it there one of these days. But I was shocked to learn just last year that I didn’t have to go all the way to Greenville, Mississippi to experience Doe’s, though obviously, the flagship is the best. But there are now twelve locations of Doe’s Eat place throughout the South, with new ones rapidly expanding the brand. Here in this area, we have the option of visiting Baton Rouge or Biloxi.
And so we did, opting for Baton Rouge first. Mary Leigh was working in Baton Rouge a few weeks ago and mentioned an area she had just discovered there that she made sound so appealing we had to check it out. Mid-City is what it is called, and I knew nothing of it. She casually mentioned that Doe’s Eat Place was there, knowing my desire to see what all the fuss was about.
Interested in what she described as an area ripe for perusing, we went that Saturday afternoon. I was definitely disappointed in the area, picturing a place for meandering through shops and restaurants. In fact, it is a small stretch of a few restaurants and no place anyone would want to meander. But here was Doe’s, finally.
It is almost tucked away, with an entrance off Government Street. The building is really interesting, and it looks the part of a former steakhouse. I was surprised to learn that Doe’s moved in way back in 2011. I had no idea that Doe’s Eat Place was right in my vicinity. We would have gone long ago.
We went almost as soon as they opened, so they weren’t very busy, but the place filled up rather quickly. The hostess stand is in a foyer, (which oddly includes bathrooms,) and you proceed into the dining room.
There are a few rooms off the main dining room, and one was sort of subterranean, dark, pubbish, and sort of a sports bar. It reminded me of a place I remembered from our time in DC after Katrina. In Georgetown, there is a basement hamburger joint under a first-class restaurant. The restaurant is 1789, dating back to 1789, and the Tombs is the basement hangout for Georgetown students and residents of the posh community. Jude was a regular there and he took us occasionally.
This room did not have the centuries-old aura to it that the Tombs has, but it was interesting enough. And I imagine it is just as popular with students from LSU and their families.
Our waitress was absolutely great, and I figured all of the waitstaff is likely to be students. She came over right away and had everything we needed before we asked. When I mentioned how much Tom liked the “biscuits”, which actually seemed more like fried donuts, she sent us home with a bunch of them.
We ordered a half dozen hot tamales to start. These were very much like Manuel’s though not as greasy, and the meat was not as integrated into the masa. They were larger than Manuel’s though not significantly so, and were wrapped in the same type of parchment. These were not served with a light jus, but rather a bowl of chili, which struck me as perhaps the best I’ve ever had. It was spicy and thick and meaty and absolutely everything anyone would want a chili to be.
I asked for some Saltine crackers and was transported back to the kitchen table at the home of my youth, on an evening when my dad brought home a football-sized bundle of Manuel’s Hot Tamales in a brown paper bag drenched with grease.
Each bite of these tamales included cracker and chili, and it was nostalgic bliss, though the memory does not line up exactly with recent reality.
These disappeared quickly, and I was glad I could eat most of it because Tom had his own appetizer of a half dozen fried oysters. The oysters were small and nothing special, though they were hot and crispy. There was a mayo-based sauce for dipping, though not a tartar sauce.
We also ordered a petite filet and fries. There were other choices of steak: a porterhouse, ribeye, and T-bone, as well as a larger filet.
When we ordered the steak the waitress returned to the table with a little basket of drop biscuits and packs of butter that is usually seen in restaurants with a much lower price point than this one. But somehow it seemed appropriate. Tom loved these little tidbits of fried dough, which definitely seemed more like donuts to me.
We each got a salad, which surprised me since we were sharing the steak. But the menu encourages sharing steaks, which is unusual in our experience. Sharing of entrees is normally not only discouraged but penalized by an upcharge. Having two salads on one steak was a magnanimous gesture on the part of the restaurant, I thought. Tom chose the house vinaigrette of lemon, olive oil, and herbs, and I got blue cheese. Both of these were good but the blue cheese was far superior, mainly because it was loaded with blue cheese chunks.
The steak arrived and it was different than normal, and I say that approvingly. This was clearly a superior cut of beef, so much so that I asked a waiter about it. He told me it was Sterling Silver Beef and assumed I had heard of it. I hadn’t but did a web search and discovered that it is indeed premium grass-fed beef. This was a delicious, juicy, tender slab of beef, perfectly cooked, even though I asked for it medium-well.
On the menu, the steak preparation is described at length, including the exact aging process, and suggestions for how to order it and what temperature is recommended. (Not mine.) Even though I didn’t take their advice, I was delighted with this steak, and steak is not often something that delights me. It was absolutely great.
The fries reminded me of a pile you would see at the Crescent City Steakhouse. These are in my opinion the best out there. Exactly like Mom would have delivered to the table, back in the day. Both sets of fries are not uniformly cut, long, golden brown, and greaseless. They are fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside, with exactly the proper amount of salt.
The Crescent City fries are to me the barometer of fresh-cut perfection, the standard to which all others are measured. These were right there with them. It’s no wonder. The Crescent City came to life in 1934, Doe’s arrived in 1941. Same era.
Normally I only eat a few bites of any steak, so it works for us to split one, but I definitely would have eaten an entire one of these myself. That never happens.
This was a delicious meal, start to finish. It was a little pricey, though individually all the elements of our order did not seem high. But it does add up.
I keep thinking about those tamales and chili, and it won’t be long before we go to the Doe’s in Biloxi. And one of these days, I still hope to make it to the quirky original in Greenville, Mississippi where it all began.