BY ERIC E. HARRISON ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Doe’s Eat Place is not the most lovely dining spot on the face of the earth. It’s deliberately designed to look like a down-at-heel Southern cafe, including the severely distressed black-and-white-checked linoleum floor, which looks like chairs have been scraping over it for decades.
Little Rock’s Doe’s, an offshoot of a popular and venerable Greenville, Miss., establishment, hasn’t been open for decades, of course — well, perhaps a decade and a half. But the folks that run it have had plenty of time to get it right, and they do.
The menu is limited, but what there is, is pretty darn good.
Doe’s, considered the favorite Little Rock dining spot for former President Clinton, as well as a favored dining spot for the area’s movers and shakers, is pretty busy most lunch times and weekend nights.
It will no doubt get even busier as out-of-towners flood in for the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center in coming weeks.
They’ll see nearly every inch of the off-white walls in the front dining room lined with photographs, cartoons, caricatures, framed newspaper articles, vintage advertising materials, wine bottles, beer bottles, antique rifles, a wooden Indian and other bric-a-brac.
In the somewhat calmer, less finished east dining room, political paraphernalia abounds. There’s also a quite lovely (and completely out of keeping with the rough-and-ready rest of the decor) outdoor deck.
Seating is at red-padded, black-metal-framed "lunchroom" chairs, with "lunchroom" tables topped with well-worn red-andwhite-checked plastic-coated tablecloths.
The specialty of Doe’s house is monster steaks — 31 / 2-, 4-, 5-and 6-pound sirloins at $13 a pound; 2-, 21 / 2- and 3-pound Tbones ($14.50 per pound) and 21/2- and 3-pound porterhouses ($17 a pound).
Our 21 / 2-pound porterhouse (a little quick math brings us to $42.50) was more than enough to feed two twice (roughly half the steak left in a to-go box), even without the mountain of delicious skin-on, golden-brown, soft-inside fries, the bowl of new potatoes immersed in butter and the buttery Texas toast.
Oh, and the tasty soaked salad, mostly iceberg (but still the healthiest thing on the menu) with veggie accents and one large garlicky crouton.
The steak came out as we ordered it, medium rare (with a couple of slightly rarer spots, but we admit it’s tough to evenly cook a piece of beef that thick). It was less than fork-tender but not tough, and it tasted like excellent beef, not a spice mixture. (In fact, we considered adding a light sprinkle of salt, which, thankfully, was our decision and not the kitchen’s.)
Not in the mood for beef ? Doe’s offers a 20-ounce grilled salmon ($30), "lightly rubbed with garlic and special blend of seasonings ... perfect for two," which we didn’t try, and broiled shrimp (appetizer priced, $9.50 a half dozen, $15.50 a dozen; entree priced $10.50 and $16.50, including salad, fries, toast and new potatoes), nice, plump medium shrimp, lightly seasoned and floating in a slightly salty garlic butter.
The small cup of cocktail sauce seemed superfluous, although it provided a nice dip for the side fries. (Fried shrimp is available for the same prices.)
Doe’s hot tamales with chili ($1 each, available in half-dozen and dozen sizes) are worthwhile as an appetizer or light meal, firm cornmeal tubes with a spiced-beef filling, sloppywrapped in wax paper rather than corn shucks, with a bowl of Doe’s excellent, beefy chili to ladle over them. (The chili is $3 a la carte.)
The lunch menu sheds the seafood and adds burgers, hot sandwiches (we had a very respectable grilled turkey and cheese, light on the mayo, with many fries for $4.95) and pasta plates. The same sides of beef are available at the same prices, but at lunchtime they’re affectionately dubbed "For Goodness Steaks."
The dinner menu offers assistance for new customers from "our experienced staff." The staff member who waited on us at dinner was not only experienced, she was very good. Food and drinks were delivered promptly and professionally; she was there, or easy to flag, when we needed her, and helping other diners when we didn’t. Our lunch waiter was just as efficient.
DOE’S EAT PLACE
Address: 1023 W. Markham St., Little Rock Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; 5;30-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday Cuisine: Steaks, seafood Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D Alcoholic beverages: Full bar Reservations: Parties of seven or more Nonsmoking section: No Wheelchair accessible: With difficulty Carryout: Yes (501) 376-1195