I've read about Doe's Eat Place online and in novels, magazines and newspapers. The original is in Greenville, Miss., the heart of the Delta, and it's well-known for its hand-cut steaks and hand-rolled tamales. My first visit was a meal I'll never forget.
Once our name was found on the reservations list (I highly recommend calling ahead), we were ushered through the kitchen and into one of three small dining areas with mismatched tables. Quite charming, actually. When our waitress appeared, the conversation went like this:
Waitress: What do y'all want for dinner?
My husband, Tom: Well, this is our first time here. Do you have a menu?
Waitress: Well, no, not a written one, but I do have one in my head. ... We have a 2-pound ribeye; a 2-pound T-bone; a 10-ounce filet; a 2-pound sirloin; fried shrimp; shrimp sautéed in butter and garlic; seafood gumbo; tamales; and a tossed salad with oil and lemon dressing.
Tom and our friend Lars Ely both ordered T-bones and salads. I chose the ribeye. And we told her we'd start with tamales.
Within minutes, the salads were delivered, followed shortly thereafter by the tamales.
Hot tamales have an interesting history in the Delta. When itinerant farmers came up from Mexico to help work the area's farms in the 1930s, they brought their food with them. The love of the tamales spread among those living in the Delta and established a route used by the workers as Tamale Road, with Greenville as one of the stops.
Doe's is one place where you can find them hand-rolled and ready to consume in huge numbers. Be careful, or you'll fill up before your meal arrives.
I limited myself to two tamales and was able to eat my entire filet. It was one of the biggest and best steaks I've ever had, so there was no way was I going to let this one be bagged up and reheated. It was masterfully cooked, with just the right amount of seasoning and chargrilled crunch on top.
One of the 2-pound T-bones could have served both Tom and Lars, though, so we walked out with three containers. Two contained their leftover steak, and the other a dozen tamales for later.
The "menu" we received from our server did not include prices, and we didn't ask. Tom and I learned, though, that the next time we go, we'll limit ourselves to two salads and split one steak. The bill without tip, which also included three beers, was $194. If you want wine, bring your own. You won't find a corkage fee here.
There are several Doe's locations around the South. You'll find them online at www.doeseatplace.com. But there was something about dining in the very first one that made our meal all the more special.
Information cards on the tables said the restaurant's history goes back to the days when segregation ruled the South. Then, roles were reversed, and white people were only allowed to come in through the back door to enjoy the steak and tamales while black people were enjoying a honky-tonk in the front.
I'm glad things have changed, though I'd walk through a back, front or side door, even come down the chimney, to eat a steak and a plate of tamales at Doe's.