Little Rock's Mecca for Gumbo and Gab

updated 11/02/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/02/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

NIGHT IS FALLING OVER LITTLE ROCK, Ark., and the good ol' boys and girls are chowing down in Doe's is Place. The food in Doe's is what you'd expect: down-home, plain, not a hint of nouvelle—which is just fine with policy director Bob Boorstin, campaign strategist James Carville, media consultant Mandy Grunwald and visiting journalists desperately seeking high-octane Clinton flavors.

On the edge of downtown Little Rock, Doe's most distinguishing feature is a neon Miller Lite sign. Inside, the tablecloths are red-checkered, the floor is scuffed black-and-white linoleum, and the walls are dolled with pictures of politicians, interspersed with hunting and fishing posters.

Lucille Robinson, the cook at Doe's, says that Clinton himself regularly lunched on "greasy, juicy" cheeseburgers when he was spending more time in the Governor's mansion, which is about two miles away. He hasn't been in in months, but his top staffers have made it their hangout. Every one of them has a Doe's story to tell—usually with the word cholesterol either mentioned or strongly implied. "My cardiologist doesn't know about Doe's," says Boorstin, a New Yorker whose consumption of red meat has about quintupled since he began eating at Doe's, Press Secretary Avis La Velle says Doe's was her introduction to Southern cooking—"buttered, battered and fried"—and that she gave the place up after finding out on a trip home to Chicago that none of her winter clothes fit anymore.

Most of the regulars know the fare by heart. It's easy since there are only six dinner entrées: steak, fried shrimp, tamales, spaghetti, gumbo and chili. "Yes, we have vegetables," says cook Lucille: "Potatoes."

And if any doubts remain about the kind of place Doe's is, listen to waiter Tim Jones's response to one diner's request. "Cappuccino?" he says. "No, but we sometimes leave the coffee on too long."

Carville, a native Louisianan, has a cavil about the food at Doe's, one of a small chain that started in Greenville, Miss. "Their gumbo is a little Light for me," he says. "I like mine the color of ditch water."

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