Reprinted with permission from Scott Cherry, Tulsa World. 

Betty Watowich had retired from Walmart at its home office in Bentonville, Arkansas, and had moved to Claremore to be closer to her husband’s job. Retirement didn’t sit well with her.

“I had to do something,” she said recently. “I couldn’t just sit around.”

She said she looked into some business opportunities before it occurred to her that she and her husband still were driving to Bentonville to dine at their favorite restaurant, Doe’s Eat Place.

“We went there twice a week when we lived in Bentonville, and we still were going there after we moved to Claremore,” Watowich said. “I looked into acquiring a franchise, and I found a great location to open my own Doe’s Eat Place.”

The perfect place was a portion of the Will Rogers Center, formerly the historic Hotel Will Rogers, built in 1930 and known for its impeccable service and healing mineral waters. Today, it has retail on the ground floor and apartments above. Doe’s is in a separate, two-story space with a sidewalk entrance.

“We didn’t have water or gas, and we had to put in a kitchen, but I think it was worth it to be in this building,” Watowich said.

For those who don’t know Doe’s, it features humongous steaks, tamales and seafood. It was started by Mamie and Dominick “Doe” Signa in 1941 in Greenville, Mississippi, and the family still operates the original restaurant in the small, aging building.

A Doe’s Eat Place operated for 11 years on Tulsa’s Cherry Street before closing in 2015.

Three of the steaks are sold by the pound and are sold in set amounts. The porterhouse ($28 per pound) is available in 2-, 2 ½- and 3-pound sizes, the T-bone ($26 per pound) in 1 ½- and 2-pound sizes, and the top sirloin ($24 per pound) in 1-, 2-, and 3-pound sizes.

Filets are available in four sizes for $35 to $46, and a bone-in rib-eye in the 2-pound range is $52. Most of the steaks are enough for two to share.

Doe’s has four seafood dishes — Atlantic salmon, Gulf mahi, sea bass, Gulf shrimp —and some chicken tenders, but we were there for the beef.

We ordered a 1 ½-pound T-bone ($39) and a 10-to-12-ounce filet ($38), both medium-rare. These were thick steaks, especially the filet. I don’t know how the filet could have been any more tender, a delicate, melt-in-your-mouth customer, and the T-bone delivered a flavor as big as the steak itself.

Entrees come with a choice of boiled red potatoes or fries, a small dinner salad and drop biscuits. Each plate came with a bowl of three round, red potatoes with packets of sour cream. The potatoes were tender and just the right amount to go with the steaks. The drop biscuits, about the size of golf balls, came with packets of butter.

We had to try the long, slender tamales, developed and sold in Greenville by Mamie Signa to supplement her husband’s job as a bootlegger before they opened the restaurant. That’s what it says on the Doe’s Eat Place website, anyway.

We ordered a half-dozen tamales, the smallest we could, and they came with house-made chili. The tamales had a thin layer of masa, were filled with fine-ground beef and with the chili had a somewhat spicy flavor. We took the leftovers home and topped them with a couple of fried eggs for brunch the next day.

We also shared a half-dozen broiled shrimp cooked in garlic butter ($11) that came with nice cocktail and remoulade sauces, and a cup of some wonderful crab and corn bisque ($6).

For the younger set, a 4-ounce medallion of tenderloin for ages 14 and under is $18, and two fried or broiled chicken tenders for the same age group is $7.

Our hard-working server, Aaron, was energetic and attentive throughout the dinner.

Doe’s has full bar service, and the prices of wines, cocktails and beers seemed quite moderate for a fine-dining restaurant.

The downstairs dining room has four black booths and nine wooden tables and chairs. More seating is available on the second-floor bar area, plus a 50-seat private room.

Walls are decorated with Route 66, Will Rogers and American Indian items, along with photos of the original Doe’s and the restaurant’s history.

I loved the background music. I heard songs from Jim Reeves, Tammy Wynette, David Allan Coe and Charley Pride, among others from the 1950s through the ‘80s.

Doe’s doesn’t open until 5 p.m., but go a little early and take in the lobby and ballroom of the former Hotel Will Rogers. It’s open for public viewing 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

-by Scott Cherry
Tulsa World