Damn, we love Doe’s! We go to the “Eat Place” just infrequently enough that we don’t remember how much we love it — until we’re back. And then, a few bites in, our eyes meet, we nod and utter a synchronized “Damn!”
We love Doe’s for lunch. We love Doe’s for dinner. And while the options have expanded gradually — particularly at lunch — since the place proudly known as a “dive” opened in 1988, we generally stick with the same formula. This also owes to the infrequency of our visits. (No explanations for that unfortunate phenomenon.)
We won’t belabor the well-known backstory behind Doe’s Eat Place. But it’s important. Veteran restaurateur George Eldridge (chronologically: Band Box/Sports Page/Buster’s/Doe’s/Blues City Cafe in Memphis/The Tamale Factory in Gregory) loved the original Doe’s in Greenville, Miss., and worked a deal to open the world’s second Doe’s on West Markham a little west of the Little Rock Police Department headquarters.
Eldridge, like many high-profile Arkansans, was buddies with the governor who would become president, and during the 1992 campaign the famed Rolling Stone interview with Bill Clinton was conducted at Doe’s. Bill’s been back, and the stories and pictures live on. (Check the Annie Leibovitz shot of Eldridge with chef Lucille Robinson before the Inaugural Ball.)
All that, and the rag-tag restaurant itself, adds to the allure, but as the Doe’s website notes “the real stars will always be our eats.”
Doe’s cheeseburger should be in the thick of any “best burger in town” discussion. It, like Doe’s unique approach to steak, benefits from the flattop griddle that imparts a nice crunch that locks in supreme juiciness. Doe’s doesn’t overdress its burgers, and it puts the scant layer of shredded lettuce, the very thin tomato slices, the pickle and chopped onion below the burger, not above it. The bun is also grilled and just a bit greasy. It’s $6.25 and includes Doe’s near-perfect, hand-cut, straight-cut fries, 50 cents less if you 86 the cheese.
We got a little ahead of ourselves, because the correct start to a Doe’s lunch is a plate of tamales. Three of the thick, cigar-sized, custom-made tamales will set you back $4.25. (They get slightly cheaper per tamale if you go for the half-dozen or dozen.) Unleash them from their paper wrapper and you’ll find a nice ratio of masa to the slightly spicy shredded pork center. They are firm, not at all mushy, and served with thinnish chili that isn’t really spicy hot, but does have a nice chili powder zing.
The lunch menu includes spaghetti and meatballs, catfish, chicken pasta and even a damn salad with grilled chicken (blasphemy!). We figure somebody gets some of those sometimes.
Steaks are served at Doe’s by the pound, ranging from two to six, and are $15.50 (sirloin) $16.50 (T-bone) and $19.50 (Porterhouse) per pound. We ordered our three-pound Porterhouse medium rare, and it came out exactly that with the fabulous flattop-generated crunch to the exterior; the inside was almost buttery it was so tender. Grill vs. griddle vs. oven for steaks can be argued, and we like them done all ways, but it’s the griddle treatment that makes Doe’s steaks notable and distinctive.
Again, we’ve cut to the main-course chase. All Doe’s dinners start with a small soaked salad — iceberg, tomato and red onion dosed with plenty of oil and vinegar. It’s not our favorite salad, but it’s certainly got its diehard fans. You’ll also get more than enough of those great fries, plus boiled new potatoes and greasy/crunchy Texas toast.
We usually add each of the two shrimp choices — broiled and fried, each $11.50 per half-dozen and $19.50 per dozen. The fried are our favorite in town — perfectly done shrimp beneath batter that is incredibly light and crisp. We’re not so high on the cocktail sauce, which is a little sweet for our taste and needs more horseradish. The broiled shrimp swim in garlicky, buttery wonderfulness.
One of our other favorite quirks of Doe’s is going to the “wine closet” and picking out our own bottle; each has a handwritten price on it, and the prices are quite reasonable.
Doe’s isn’t a fancy place; the waitress didn’t know the brand of the house wine, and no money is wasted on fancy flatware, plates or tablecloths. But who cares, really?