Stepping into Doe's Eat Place feels like wandering the wrong way into an already hopping dinner party. The front door opens on a hot kitchen. The window units try; the eroded linoleum floor can’t. The beer cooler operates on the honor system, and old ball caps garland the walls. Imagine someone ran into your grandpa’s workshop with an armful of red-checkered tablecloths and yelled, “Quick, turn this place into a restaurant!”
It’s not far from how Doe’s started. In the early ’40s, Dominick “Big Doe” Signa ran a juke joint in the front room of his family home, formerly his dad’s grocery store. The city of Greenville, like all Mississippi, was segregated and dry, and Big Doe, the son of Italian immigrants, sold bootlegged beer and Delta tamales to his mostly Black neighborhood. When white patrons started showing up at the back door, for takeout or for spaghetti and steaks at the Signas’ kitchen table, things got busy. The family moved out the furniture, shut down the barrelhouse up front, and made the whole place into the “eat place.”
Big Doe’s grandson runs things today, and the menu is mostly unchanged: Parchment-rolled tamales, served with chili. Broiled shrimp. Salads dressed in olive oil. Steaks worth a pilgrimage, fired and served in cast-iron skillets, each cut swimming in enough au jus to make a candle after dinner.
In Doe’s dining room, I see my grade-school self peeling shrimp and saltine wrappers. I see the back room where I drank Bird Dog from a plastic glass on a road trip in my 20s. There’s where I once yanked New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin away from a stove flame about to lick his jacket. The Doe’s name has been franchised here and there across the South, but only the original has the memories, the generational scuffs marking a linoleum floor.