Doe's Eat Place: Beef and More Beef

If you've heard of Doe's Eat Place, you've probably heard that they have yummy tamales and a dive-y atmosphere. You might have also heard that Time magazine called its steaks the most mouth-watering in the United States, or that Men's Journal named the Doe's porterhouse No. 1 on its list of the 100 best things to eat in America. I went into Doe's with high expectations of quality steaks and curiosity about the Doe's experience (i.e., surprisingly great food in a surprisingly casual atmosphere). I left full to the gills and a true believer in the Doe's steak.

A Springfield-area blogger went to Doe's the day before I did, and (according to her blog entry) she was not as impressed. The dive schtick didn't work well with her sensibilities, and it appears that she found certain aspects of the kitchen off-putting enough to not want to go back. I mention this because I'd bet she's not the only person out there who feels that way. So consider this your warning. This is not Bijan's. This is not Clary's. There are no white tablecloths on the tables, and the cooks (who did a perfect job on my food) don't have a problem goofing off a little in the kitchen. It's laid back, and I'd know. Not because I spent time with them back there, but because our table was directly in front of the kitchen, which is open to the dining room. When we first arrived, we could hear loud whistling coming from the kitchen. I saw four or five guys in aprons standing around back there, but none of them were whistling. A few of them were staring up at the wall above the big window into the kitchen. It confused the heck out of me. Then one of the cooks looked out at us and said, "We're watching Kill Bill." So I guess there's a TV back there. Like I said, this place is about as laid back as you can get. But, in the cooks' defense, Doe's was pretty empty when I showed up. It was about 6:45  p.m. on a Thursday, and there was hardly anyone else in the dining room. They probably didn't have much work to do right at that moment. Not long after we ordered, more parties started to fill the dining room, and no one in the kitchen really seemed to have time to gaze at Uma Thurman anymore.

But I'm jumping ahead. Backtrack to when I first arrived at Doe's. Parking is a short trek down Trafficway from the restaurant rather than right outside, so pay attention to the signs. Two young, upbeat hostesses were chatting with one of the other women in my party when I got there. The third member of our group was sitting at the bar having a beer, talking to the bartender. As a matter of fact, everyone on the staff we met was cheerful, laid back and friendly. We rounded ourselves up, and the hostess seated us right away. The floors in Doe's are wood, the walls are wood-paneled, and the tables are covered in vinyl tablecloths-the kind your grandma might have on the kiddie table at family reunions. There is not a single part of the décor that screams "high-class" or "pretentious" or even "nice." That's not to say the place is a mess. That's the one part of the definition of dive that is not embraced here. The dining room was clean as a whistle that day.

We were seated towards the middle of the room with a view straight into the kitchen, and the table was topped with, among other things, a roll of paper towels and a little bear-shaped bottle of honey. The paper towels were for our mess, and the honey was for the rolls our server brought out shortly after we sat down. If you've ever had the rolls at Fish, you'll be familiar with this kind of bread. The Doe's rolls are very similar. The best way to describe them is as unglazed, unsugared donut-like balls of fried goodness.

The wait staff was friendly and attentive without being overbearing. Our server didn't pop by the table to check on us too often, but our water glasses were always full, and she was always there when we needed something.

Doe's claims to have world-famous tamales, so we couldn't resist trying them as a starter to our meal. The two friends I was eating with ordered shrimp in a lemon butter sauce with boiled red potatoes, and I ordered the eight-ounce filet with the same potatoes. Rumor has it, I should have tried the fries. That'll be for next time. Both entrées came with marinated salad, which is mostly iceberg lettuce with an oil-and-vinegar dressing. Simple as can be, but pretty yummy.

Staying true to their dive schtick, the folks at Doe's dish out your not-cheap meal on really cheap-looking plastic dishes like something from a school cafeteria. You know the ones... the beige ones. There is no garnish. There is no aesthetic flair in the presentation. There's just food-a hunk of it or a pile of it, depending on what you're eating-slapped down in front of you with absolutely no fanfare. So when our server set the kinda-ugly plate in front of me, my first thought was, "I'm paying more than $20 for this?" Then I tried a bite of my filet, and my second thought was, "Oh hell yes I am!"

>> I had ordered the 8-ounce filet cooked to medium temperature. And (despite my usual bad luck and magnetic attraction to overcooked steaks) I received it cooked to medium temperature. It was perfect. Not just temperature-perfect, but unadulterated, melt-in-your-mouth, juicy-goodness, if-God-wanted-a-steak- you'd-feed-him-this-one perfect.

I had ordered the eight-ounce filet cooked to medium temperature. And (despite my usual bad luck and magnetic attraction to overcooked steaks) I received it cooked to... medium temperature. It was perfect. Not just temperature-perfect, but unadulterated, melt-in-your-mouth, juicy-goodness, if-God-wanted-a-steak-you'd-feed-him-this-one perfect. I was beyond pleased. This place absolutely lived up to its reputation as a top-notch steakhouse. Be prepared for big eats at Doe's, and know that sharing entrées is perfectly acceptable. Doe's is known for its porterhouse and T-bone steaks, which are served in huge portions. They'll even cook a big steak to more than one temperature for people who are splitting it. Except for the filet, which comes in portions such as the tiny-by-comparison eight-ounce version that I ordered, the smallest cut of meat you can get is one and a half pounds.

The shrimp dish was tasty, too. Although I wouldn't say it shines like the steak did, my friends both enjoyed it. And the tangy seasoned lemon butter sauce was addictive, to say the least. Besides a couple of shrimp options, there's really nothing on the menu for folks who don't eat beef. The side dishes we tried were ho-hum-tasty but nothing special. But do try those tamales with chili as a starter. I was excited to taste the "world-famous" ones at Doe's, and they didn't disappoint. There's nothing like a little beef (in corn-licious masa) topped with extra beef (in the form of tasty chili) to get you ready for yet more beef (on a plastic plate).

Doe's Eat Place, 1232 E. Trafficway St., Springfield, 417-869-3637, doeseatplace.com. Dinner only, Monday through Saturday. Doe's Eat Place is scheduled to open for lunch by mid-October. Full bar.

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