Gaining proper cultural insight anywhere worldwide is as simple as putting your feet under a table at the right restaurant. Doe’s Eat Place is the most iconic restaurant in the State of Mississippi, is among countless Top-10 lists nationwide, has served countless luminaries and celebrities right alongside duck hunters fresh off the river for decades. It even received the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award. But don’t ask for a menu because they’ve never had one. From across a red checkered table cloth, Ramsey Russell joins 3rd-generation owner, Dominic “Baby Doe” Signa, plus life-long patron and Mississippi Delta hunter-historian, Hank Burdine, for a lively round-table discussion of this legendary restaurant’s colorful history. Of course, they end up talking Mississippi Delta duck hunting, too! How and when did this restaurant get started? What Doe’s Eat Place specialty was named Number 1 Must-Eat item in America? What’s the hot tamale connection to Mississippi? How many salads did Aunt Florence prepare during her 75-year career – and why’s that number only the half of it? How has the nearby Mississippi River influenced Doe’s and regional duck hunting? This is an absolutely delicious episode you’ll really sink your teeth into.
Iconic Mississippi Delta Restaurant, Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville
If you want to know a place, any place on God’s earth, if you want to get a real good idea of what that place and what those people are about, go sample their food. That’s why we’re at Doe’s Eat Place. Y’all are going to get a real good glimpse of what the Mississippi Delta is truly all about- Ramsey Russell
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere podcast. I am back in Greenville, Mississippi, which is my birthplace, by the way. You’re right on the Mississippi River. We’re really not too far on the banks of Lake Ferguson, a massive oxbow I grew up swimming in. We’re not too far right here at the home of the Blues. In fact, I’d say maybe an hour’s drive north of here is where Robert Johnson supposedly made a deal with the devil. And I bet a lot of you duck hunters are wondering today, “What in the heck is Ramsey talking about a restaurant in the Delta for?” You all hang on to your caps, boys and girls, and listen to this story.
My earliest memories growing up in Greenville, Mississippi, is when we had special guests or family come in from out of town. Mom and Dad would always order hot tamales from Doe’s Eat Place, and I can remember walking up in here back in days, they would still serve in big old tin cans. I’d get one of those big old industrial tin cans full of hot tamales and go on home. Handmade right here. Many of y’all may remember me telling the story, because I was a grown man before I realized hot tamales was Mexican food. I grew up in the Mississippi Delta; it was Mississippi Delta food for a good reason. I was in Wyoming a few years ago at a third-generation Mexican restaurant. The special was hot tamales and they were bragging on them. I said, “Are they good?” She goes, “Oh, it’s the best in the world.” And I said, “Well you’re apparently not from Greenville, Mississippi!”
Today’s guests are Dominic Signa, third-generation of Doe’s Eat Place. Everybody calls him Baby Doe, Doe for short, and his “uncle” Hank Burdine, which I ain’t figured out how they related yet. But we’ll sort through that. Y’all listen, I think y’all are going to get a real good glimpse of a very cultural place and a very good idea of what the Mississippi Delta is truly about. If you want to know a place, any place on God’s earth, if you want to get a real good idea of what that place and what those people are about, go sample their food and that’s why we’re at Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, Mississippi today. How are y’all doing today?
Dominic Signa: Good, doing good.
Hank Burdine: Glad to be here. Glad to be here.
Doe’s Eat Place Lore
Ramsey Russell: You know, I read somewhere that this restaurant has been around a long time. How long has this building been here?
Dominic Signa: The building dates back to the late 1800s, early 1900s. We have the deed on it that dates back that far.
Ramsey Russell: Early 1900s.
Dominic Signa: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: And I read somewhere that this building started as a grocery store back in that era. And that would have been your great, great granddaddy?
Dominic Signa: My grandfather.
Ramsey Russell: Your grandfather?
Dominic Signa: Yes. The Doe Senior. Yes, he started it. They lived in the restaurant here, and he’d serve out the front a lot of hot plate lunches and different things, and then it just escalated from there into a restaurant.
Ramsey Russell: Walk everybody through the whole colorful history of this place because it actually started as a juke joint. It was actually started as a juke joint for blacks.
Dominic Signa: That’s right. And it was strange at the time because my grandfather would serve to the black people up front, and he had friends that were doctors and lawyers, and they were white, and they’d come in the back door. He served them food in the back, which in the 40s was very ironic and kind of reverse. And then my grandfather’s friends talked him into turning it over to a full restaurant, and that’s where we are today. Now when it was the juke joint, there’s a lot of funny stories. One, some of the police officers would come in, and my grandfather would have whiskey bottles hidden in the restaurant, and they’d come in and get a sip or two and then go back on patrol because back then there was no drinking, no whiskey, no anything.
Hank Burdine: We were still in prohibition.
Dominic Signa: That’s right. There’s rumors that some of the legs and the tables unscrewed, and they could drink out of the leg of the table. All kind of crazy stories.
Ramsey Russell: Were any of them true?
Dominic Signa: I don’t know.
Ramsey Russell: You don’t know?
Dominic Signa: I don’t know.
Ramsey Russell: You didn’t find a hollow table leg?
Dominic Signa: No, I haven’t. No hidden money anywhere either.
Ramsey Russell: What do you know about the history of it, Hank? Because you were telling me some real nice stories outside.
Hank Burdine: I’ve been knowing this boy, Baby Doe Signa, since before he was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye.
Ramsey Russell: Oh.
Hank Burdine: I have been coming here all my life. My mom and daddy used to bring us here, line us all up at the table and we’d sit up here and eat with them and talk with them. My daddy and his granddaddy was the best of friends, very close friends. And I’ve been eating in the front room here at doors in the kitchen with Aunt Florence and Aunt Rosalie and Aunt Maddie. It was just like a second home to me. I’ve been coming here and eating here all my life and I feel so comfortable here. It’s like home. I mean it just absolutely is like home and when all the aunties were here, the Aunt Rosalie, the Aunt Maddie, the Aunt Florence, you get more hugs than you get anywhere in the world when you come into Doe’s Eat Place. And you’re not going to eat any better than when you’re eating in Doe’s Eat Place.
Doe’s Eat Place Menu
Ramsey Russell: I do believe that. I truly do believe that. I have seen in Garden and Gun magazine, every Southern Living, every Men’s Journal, every magazine, hunting or otherwise, that talked about great places to eat or great steaks or Best Steaks in the Country. Doe’s Eat Place always ranks high.
Hank Burdine: Well, that’s true but there’s no menu here. Invariably, folks would come in from all over the world, Japan. I remember one night I saw a whole contingency of Japanese folks in here working on some business deals and they had about eight or ten of them at a big table in the side room, which by the way used to be the bedroom where all the kids were raised up back there, and they couldn’t speak any English, and of course, none of the ladies here spoke much Japanese at all. So when they asked for the menu, they tried to explain that there was no menu. So all of a sudden I look here comes Judy walking with four steaks balanced on her hands and her arms showing them to difference between Sirloin, a T-bone, a porterhouse and a ribeye, and there all the steaks were and they just pointed to them and said, “yeah, yeah, I want that one!” So that was the menu. If you wanted to see what the steak looked like, they’d bring them out and show them to you.
Ramsey Russell: I’m sitting here looking at the special covid carry-out menu. The menu is about a four by eight, Christmas card sized menu and there’s 10 items. That’s been the same 10 items forever.
Dominic Signa: That’s always been that way. We used to not serve the fillet, but when I say used to, it got added 20 years ago. So yes, that menu has been with us for a long time. Why change something that’s been working so well?
Ramsey Russell: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Dominic Signa: That’s right.
Hank Burdine: This is the first time in my life I’ve ever seen a menu at Doe’s Eat Place.
Dominic Signa: It’s just for the to-go [orders] menu during covid.
Ramsey Russell: Well she would’ve likely never found it. I wouldn’t ask for one but I had to look at it in this podcast. She had to rummage around for a few minutes. I guess everybody comes in here and knows what they want.
Doe’s Eat Place Ambiance
Someone comes in a tuxedo sitting next to someone that just came off the river duck hunting or just got out of the deer stand, deer hunting, and they’re swapping stories. They don’t even know each other. It’s just when you come into Doe’s Eat Place, that’s what people love about it. You’re always meeting new friends, you’re always hearing new stories.
Dominic Signa: That’s right. They know what they want. And people love hunting season. We’ll have someone comes in a tuxedo sitting next to someone that just came off the river duck hunting or just got out of the deer stand, deer hunting, and they’re swapping stories. They don’t even know each other. It’s just when you come into the restaurant, to Doe’s, that’s what people love about it. You’re always meeting new friends, you’re always hearing new stories, and it’s just the ambiance of it, and it’s just unbelievable.
Hank Burdine: You never leave those sad and I know nobody has ever left Doe’s hungry. That don’t happen. It’s your own fault.
Ramsey Russell: If they did, it’s their own fault. It’s in an old part of town, what we call across the tracks. Its original building is and it’s surprised a lot of people. From the outside looking in, you say, “oh man.” But that’s part of the whole allure in the atmosphere. When you walk in here, its memories stretching back decades: deer heads and ducks and pictures and magazine stories and old Mississippi River maps; it’s generations of your family cooking; and your aunts and the ladies wearing dresses and it’s just been around forever. That’s part of the atmosphere in there. To me, it just speaks volumes of Southern culture in general.
Dominic Signa: It does and people are fast to try all these new and fancy places. But you can’t pass up the old, traditional places.
Doe’s Eat Place Steaks
Ramsey Russell: Well, you just walked us through and were showing me about your steaks, where you get your steaks, how you cut your steaks, how your season and cook your steaks, walk me through that process because there’s no there’s no such thing as a petite portion here at Doe’s. I remember the time I went to Las Vegas and we were in one of the casino malls looking for somewhere to eat and I’m thinking , “Man, I’m going to starve to death with the prices up here.” And I finally saw something I wanted and went in there and it was affordable. So I ordered it and when she brought it out it was like this little ashtray with these little nibbles and toothpicks. I said, “No ma’am, I didn’t order an appetizer.” And she said, “no, that’s your meal.” I said, “I am going to starve to death.” Nobody starves to death on y’all’s portion sizes.
Dominic Signa: No. If they leave here hungry, it’s their own fault. So, the way it works, when you come in and pick out what you want, the waitress will come, we’ll go into the cooler and pick out your steak. Of course, we order our loins and cut all our steaks in-house. The only thing we don’t cut is our filets. They come pre-cut, 10 ounces. So we cut them prior to the night. We don’t do any marinating. They come to us when they are 21-days aged. Now, if they stay in the cooler for two or three days, that’s two or three days extra aged. We don’t do any dry-aging, we don’t do any aging. We just get them, cut them, serve them as fast as we can. So the waitress will come pick out your steak, bring it to the cutting board where I showed you where we cook, and we’ll season it up and throw it on the grill, cooking however you prefer.
Ramsey Russell: About 2-inch thick, every steak size.
Dominic Signa: We cut them all almost 2 inches thick. That’s right. So we serve a porterhouse, and one a little bit smaller than a porterhouse that I’m just going to say it’s a T-Bone. And then bone-in ribeye, 3- to 4-pound sirloin, and a 10-ounce filet.
Ramsey Russell: What size group orders that 3-pound sirloin?
Dominic Signa: Usually, three people that are splitting the steak will split a sirloin. So porterhouses usually I’d say are 3-3.5 lbs, 2 people can split those. Although, if you’re a hungry, grown man like me, I can eat a whole one myself.
Ramsey Russell: Can you really?
Dominic Signa: Oh, yeah.
Hank Burdine: I’ve seen two people order a porterhouse and almost get in a fist fight over who’s going to get the tender side.
Dominic Signa: Or will gnaw the devil on the bone. I believe you would be surprised, the people who come in here in a tuxedo or a nice dress and get down to that T-bone and pick it up off their plate and eat it like corn on the cob, nibbling the meat off the bone. Getting grease all over their tux, all over their dress.
Ramsey Russell: It was that good.
Dominic Signa: It was that good.
Hank Burdine: I remember one year, dead of winter, fella, he’d been in here 2 or 3 times previously, flew his airplane in from Texas by himself. Somebody picked him up, taxi cab would bring him here. He had ordered a sirloin raw, not heated, a big order of french fries. And he’d sit there and eat those hot french fries and eat that sirloin, raw and cold by himself, tip his hat, pay his bill, get back on his airplane, fly back to Texas.
Ramsey Russell: My goodness.
Hank Burdine: Judy says he does that every time. That’s what he wants to do.
Ramsey Russell: Fresh out of the ice chest, raw?
Hank Burdine: Right out of cooler, with a big order of hot french fries.
Ramsey Russell: I want to try that.
Most Popular Menu Items at Doe’s
We ran the numbers and at that time it was over 1,650,000 salads that Aunt Florence had made. And when I told her that, she looked at me and she says, “Well you know just about everybody that comes into Doe’s and eats one of my salads gets a hug when they come in and when they leave.”
Ramsey Russell: What would you say your most famous dish here is at Doe’s? What would it be? Like I read a Men’s Magazine report that said your porterhouse steak topped the Top-100 Must-Eat Meals in America. That says a lot. That’s incredible.
Dominic Signa: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: I’m proud to say that’s right there in my hometown of Greenville, Mississippi. But is that what you sell the most of at Doe’s?
Dominic Signa: It’s all so good. The ultimate goal is someone coming in here, they’re coming for the porterhouse. But then I would say Aunt Florence’s salad is right there with it. You can’t turn it down.
Ramsey Russell: Aunt who?
Dominic Signa: Aunt Florence. And she just retired probably three or four years ago. And the only reason she retired is because she’s 94 years old.
Ramsey Russell: How long did she work here?
Dominic Signa: 75 years, and believe or not, Uncle Hank added up, how many salads? Do you remember?
Hank Burdine: When she was nominated Queen of the Hot Tamale Festival.
Ramsey Russell: Hot Tamale Queen.
Dominic Signa: By the way, we are the hot tamale capital of the world, Greenville, Mississippi is.
Hank Burdine: That’s correct.
Ramsey Russell: That’s correct. The world champion.
Dominic Signa: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: Right here in Greenville, Mississippi.
Dominic Signa: That’s right.
Hank Burdine: Well, because of the hot tamale from Doe’s Eat Place, every town in the Delta has their own hot tamale stand. Different people that make hot tamales, and it’s as closely guarded a secret as you can imagine. It was a long time before Baby Doe’s mama was even allowed to know what went into a hot tamales. But we were sitting on the stage at the Hot Tamale Festival and were talking about Aunt Florence working here for 75 years, and we started running the numbers on it. And the average number of days she’d work in a week, the average number of big bowls of salads she would make in a night and the number of salads would come out of a big bowl. We ran the numbers and at that time it was over 1,650,000 salads that Aunt Florence had made. And when I told her that, she looked at me and she says, “Well you know just about everybody that comes into Doe’s and eats one of my salads gets a hug when they come in and when they leave.” So, think of those hugs that Aunt Florence was giving out.
Ramsey Russell: That is a pile of hugs right there!
Doe’s Hot Tamales
Ramsey Russell: Speaking of hot tamales, because that’s what I find so interesting, is the hot tamales in the Mississippi Delta, but the hot tamales being truly famous at Doe’s Eat Place. There are a lot of places around that serve hot tamales, but everybody talks about Doe’s hot tamales. Was it your grandmother that came up with the recipe?
Dominic Signa: Yes. So my grandmother’s family right down the street on the corner had a sandwich shop, they were the Brocato’s. And they had cold cut sandwiches, salami, all kinds of really good sandwiches. So, when she met my grandfather, they got married and she brought the hot tamale recipe with her, and don’t know where she got it. No idea. They say during the depression is when the tamales really hit the delta because it was a cheap way to sell food and still get a good meal.
Ramsey Russell: You can make a hot tamale out of anything.
Dominic Signa: That’s right. So, we started making our hot tamales. Most tamales you get all over America are made out of a masa, which is like the pasty flowery-type outside. Ours are made out of cornmeal. So they got a little bit more gritty texture to them. And of course all our tamales are made out of our scrap meats from our steaks. Every steak that we cut has a little bit of scrap meat. Instead of wasting it, having to throw it away, or come up with another dish to use it, we save it, freeze it, cut it off the bone and use it for our tamales. So our tamales are made with the highest-choice meat you can come across.
Ramsey Russell: Oh absolutely. You were showing me, we were back there in the back when you were sawing those steaks and you gotta cut off just a little ends up to get them square, and bam-bam size I call them. And that’s what goes into y’all’s hot tamales. So it’s just basically prime beef.
Dominic Signa: You’re exactly right.
Ramsey Russell: That makes all the difference in the world. It’s not a recipe I’m certain you would share with anybody on what goes into that. But your grandmamma got that initial recipe and then tinkered with it.
Dominic Signa: Yep. And that’s where we are today with it, and it’s been passed down. My grandfather’s Doe Senior had two sons. Well, actually, I’m sorry, he had three sons. My dad, Doe Junior, Charles Signa, my dad’s brother, and Carmel Signa, which is another brother, and then my Aunt Martha, the daughter. So my Uncle Bubba and my Aunt Martha did things other than the restaurant. My dad and Uncle Charles stayed in the restaurant. So, she has second-generation Doe Junior, Charles Signa. Third generation me, Doe Third. And his son Charles, Jr., and then my Uncle Charles has another son, Paul, who has a restaurant in Paducah, Kentucky. He has a Doe’s Eat Place in Paducah, Kentucky.
Ramsey Russell: I did not know that.
Dominic Signa: And he does really well. He went up there not knowing anyone, not knowing any of the businesses. And he’s been up there for probably 12 years now or more and doing really, really well. He’s really made a name of himself.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I know y’all franchise. I’ve seen some around. Are they all pretty much in the family or do other people come on board now? Kind of outsider’s franchises?
Dominic Signa: Yeah, there are only two family-owned Doe’s. The one here and the one here in one Paducah, all the others are franchises, but most of them are family-owned franchises. Like a father that might put two of his sons in one or a husband and wife that are retired, and they have their family set up in one.
Ramsey Russell: So your granddaddy started the business. And your daddy who they called Little Doe. Big Doe and Little Doe, and now Baby Doe.
Dominic Signa: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: But you were telling me you almost didn’t follow down these footsteps.
Dominic Signa: That’s right. For a while, out of high school and went to college and got a Ag degree, and started at a research station in Stoneville, Mississippi. And did that for about four years. And Dad and I went on a quail hunt together with some other friends. And we were on that hunting trip and something clicked and when I got back I put my two weeks notice in and started at the restaurant. Which I’ve been around it my whole life.
Ramsey Russell: I can imagine you’ve been here since you were tall as this table.
Dominic Signa: That’s right. But full-time was when that kicked in. And all my attention went to learn how to cook steaks and run a business.
Ramsey Russell: And it just comes second nature to you.
Dominic Signa: It does, it does. Although I learn something new every day, especially with all the stuff that’s going on right now in this world with the covid. It’s just everyone’s having to learn how to adjust and how to change their ways and make things work.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. Man, you know, adversity makes us better businesses, better people. So we just got to roll with the punches. “This too shall pass,” as they say.
Dominic Signa: We’re very thankful for everyone who has come out and supported Doe’s and still coming out to eat and not forgetting about the locals and coming out and letting us serve them.
For how many years have some customers been eating at Doe’s Eat Place?
Ramsey Russell: As long as you have been here, how long have some of your clients been walking through that screen door?
Dominic Signa: Hank, how old are you?
Hank Burdine: I ain’t going to tell you. I think we got Mr. & Ms. Judy Reed been coming in here since the early 1950s.
Dominic Signa: Before I was born.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Hank Burdine: Early 50s. And folks asked me about my relationship with Doe’s Eat Place and Baby Doe and all of that, I used to say, “Well, I sit on the board of directors of the Doe’s Eat Place.” They said, “You do?” I said, “Yeah, I go down and have coffee with them every morning.” It’s like I said, it’s home. And one thing I want to do, since when y’all were talking about the Paducah Doe’s up there and little Paul and all like that it reminded me to tell y’all.
Greenville, Mississippi used to be also the towboat capital of the world. And we had 37-38 different towing industries here in Greenville. And there is no telling the millions and millions of dollars’ worth of towing contracts that were culminated and sealed with a handshake as long as it had it done at Doe’s Eat Place, and that’s where they end up. As the towing industry began to slow down in Greenville, a lot of the infrastructure, the building, the repairing and all like that went up the Ohio River, right there at Paducah, Kentucky, because that’s where the Ohio comes into the Mississippi where the upper stops and your lower starts down there. And so all of these tow companies with the owners and all that were well aware of Doe’s Eat Place. And when they opened up one in Paducah, Kentucky. Oh my goodness gracious! They got the doors in Paducah, that’s where they’re going. But yeah, there’s just no telling the business relations and all that long, and when they had the A.W.O. meeting here all the time, the American waterways operators said, “As long as we go to Doe’s Eat Place,” “Come on let’s go,” here they come. You have jet airplanes flying in from all over the country.
Ramsey Russell: You were telling me a story out front while we’re waiting on Baby Doe to get back from his son’s football practice. You were saying something about oysters passing through this window up here. Tell me tell me that story.
Hank Burdine: Well, and I remember when they used to have oysters here. Doe’s that bring them in here in the iced-down barrels of oysters, and Uncle Jug would always stand right there where the bathroom is now. You couldn’t go when my mom and dad would come here, you couldn’t go to the bathroom at Doe’s Eat Place because there was only one bathroom here. And you had to walk through the bedroom where the children were asleep and Miss Mamie wouldn’t let you in, she went, “Naw, you not going to do that, you might wake up the children.” So my mama said they would always stop at Ms. Joe Bordelon’s gas station on Broadway, right down the road, all of the time because he had a heated toilet. But Uncle Jug would sit back there because he knew not to wake the children up and he’d open the oysters right there and pass them through that little window into the kitchen where they’d serve the oysters.
Dominic Signa: So Uncle Jug was my grandfather’s brother and he married Aunt Florence. And Aunt Florence. Uncle Jug passed away probably 20 years ago maybe or more. Aunt Florence, of course, stayed with us forever. She’s still doing great.
Hank Burdine: We called him Uncle Jug because he worked for Mississippi Power and Light and he stood up into electric wire one time and burnt the strip right through the top of his head and had to wear this big turban all the time. Well, one of his best friends and Big Doe’s best friend, Mike Marcelis, said he looked like a jughead wearing that turban. So everyone just called him Jughead. So that’s Uncle Jughead. That’s why he was known, that was his name. I don’t know what his real name is, it was just uncle Jug. It was so funny.
John Provender would have a party and we’d bring a bunch of oysters up here from the coast and we would get Uncle Jug to open the oysters for us. But we’d all be out in the backyard having a big time Christmas party. Uncle Jug be opening them oysters. But every now and then you would see him slap his face. I said, “What?” No mosquitoes out there, where you look at him, he’d open up a couple of oysters and he slapped his face, open up a couple of oysters and slap his face. He was opening oysters, for every two he opened he’d eat one. He could open them but he could surely eat them, too.
Mississippi Delta Hunting Connections
I can’t tell you what it means to me for his children to come down where his daddy used to hunt, where he was hunting with me and now his children are hunting down there with me…And that’s what we’re about down here in the South. You know, the hunting traditions…the deer hunting, the duck hunting and some of the best duck hunting in the world right around here. – Hank Burdine
Ramsey Russell: I don’t blame him, I don’t blame him at all. Change the subject just a little bit, we can get back to talking about all this great food. But I heard you called him uncle. And I said, “Well, y’all related?” And he said, “Just by love.” You were telling me how you killed your first duck.
Dominic Signa: That’s right. So, I got it written in the logbook at home. I think I was 10 or 11 years old. And I remember like it was yesterday, he had a place down around Leroy Percy Park called Willow Run and he had some flooded rice fields. And it was a foggy, foggy morning. And we were using old three wheelers back then.
Hank Burdine: Yeah, Honda Big Red 3-wheelers.
Dominic Signa: That was a long time ago. And so yeah, we set up on that ditch bank and sure enough I killed a hen mallard, first duck I ever killed. I remember it like yesterday. We got back to his house, and they told me to go get something out of the truck and I walked off and came back and he had put a band on the duck. And of course, from then on I thought I killed a banded duck. I knew when the dog brought the duck back it didn’t have a band on it then, but when we got back to camp, it had a band on. So I was in high heaven because I thought the first duck ever killed had a band on it.
Hank Burdine: Until he got old enough to read and realized that it was Willow Run’s Sporting Club. But we’ve hunted together, he hunted down at Willow Run, he and his kids hunt down in my farm on Lake Washington. And it’s just family tradition stuff that just passes down and down. I can’t tell you what it means to me for his children to come down where his daddy used to hunt, where he was hunting with me and now his children are hunting down there with me. For them to kill a deer down there on my farm, it just chokes me up. I’m so happy, I think I’m happier than they are. It’s so cool. And that’s what we’re about down here in the South. You know, the hunting tradition to the deer hunting, the duck hunting and some of the best duck hunting in the world right around here, right on the Mississippi River. And I just wrote an article for Delta magazine, will be out this next week on the Ugly Duck Boat, Jimmy Presswood’s Ugly Duck Boat, that we built right here in Greenville. There’s no safer, no more effective boat built anywhere in the country than the Jimmy Presswood designed Ugly Duck Boat.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve seen those and I did not know it was right here in Greenville.
Hank Burdine: Right here. Jimmy Presswood built him about three blocks from right here, up on Broadway, right there at his welding shop. He started building them because he couldn’t stand to get cold. But he loved to duck hunt. So he started building these boats that were completely enclosed, very low to the water, very safe, positive-flotation in them. You open the whole top up to get in it, and then the other side of the top flops down when the ducks come in. You go to shooting them like that and got to flop down dog ladder on the front, got a butane burner in there to keep you warm and cook your breakfast on and all like that. And we had a big city documentary by Grits Gresham, came down here and did a big series on duck hunting in America, and featured in that with two of these ugly duck boats. And I’ll never forget the one part of that series he’s talking to Jimmy. And he asked Jimmy, he said “Jimmy, how often do you hunt?” And Jimmy looked at him, he said, “Grits, I hunt every day of the season, no matter what the weather is.” And Grits was really enthralled with the aura of big water duck hunting on the Mississippi River, safe in a boat like this. And he said, “Jimmy, I have to make one statement though. He says this boat looks like a coffin” and without batting an eye, Jimmy Presswood said “Grits, it is to the ducks.” It’s most effective and it’s a safe way to hunt.
Ramsey Russell: So did your father and granddaddy hunt also, because hunting is a big cultural thing here in the Mississippi Delta.
Dominic Signa: They did, they did. I think my dad might have hunted more. My grandfather passed away when I was 11. So I have little memories with him growing up, but had a lot of stories being told. I do remember my dad, we grew up right in the middle of town. And when my parents were off at work, I’d go to my grandfather’s house next door to us. And I’d sit in his backyard with the .22 in the middle of town shooting squirrels out of his tree, the pecan tree because they were eating all those pecans out the tree. So yeah, so they did hunt.
My grandfather and his buddies didn’t always hunt legally, I think, from the stories that I hear. Like shooting turkeys and different things, but things have changed. Of course, my dad raised me right, and this one right here raised me right to do the right thing and hunt right. But yes, my dad taught me and this one right here taught me all the hunting that I do today, I learned from them. Dad hunted a lot more. He kind of got out of it the past probably 4 or 5 years. He’s had some health issues and he hasn’t been able to get out as much. But he loves hearing the stories when we go out and come in with my boys. I have a 10 year-old and a 15 year-old. So they’re burning the woods down as much as they can. So we got plenty of stories when we come in from hunting.
Ramsey Russell: What are some of your favorite memories growing up hunting here in the Mississippi Delta?
Dominic Signa: Oh my goodness! Well for starters, is that duck hunt, you know, it was just unbelievable. Ducks were pouring in on top of us. My dad wasn’t a really big duck hunter, he loved deer hunting and loved turkey hunting. That is probably the biggest thing. We hunted one of the clubs right across the lake from downtown Greenville here. Archer Island. I grew up hunting there. My whole life. Killed my first deer there. Several times, in the spring I killed gobblers before school and then got back to school, which is really cool because the second turkey my oldest son ever killed was during the youth season. One day I took him before school, I talked to his mom and let me take him before school and she did not want me to, my wife did not want me to take him hunting. And I talked her into it and sure enough, he killed a wild turkey and I had him back to school before 8 o’clock.
Hank Burdine: That’s one thing when my kids were in school, before we moved to Colorado. I went to those teachers and I said, “I’m going to say a thing to y’all right now.” I said, “My kid’s going to be in school every day that they can possibly,” I said, “but there are a couple of things a little more important than school and hunting is one of them. So if they are a little bit late, they’ll be here, they might just be a little bit late.”
World Champion Duck Calling Contest used to be held in Greenville, Mississippi
Ramsey Russell: You know, speaking of duck hunting, the World Champion Duck Calling Contest for a long time has been held in Stuttgart, Arkansas. Very few people remember, it was for a long time held right here in Greenville, Mississippi, right there by the marina on Lake Ferguson.
Hank Burdine: Herman J. Cauliette won it two years without a duck call. Calling with just his mouth and his hands. Yeah, that’s Herman J. Cauliette right here. Remember him well.
Ramsey Russell: That was a big thing. I can remember growing up here on Fava Drive, down by Hardy Junior High School. We had a neighbor that was practicing – everybody blew them over the Yentzen calls back in the day. Double-reed. He showed us kids one time how you put a little piece of tinfoil in between them reeds to get that high-end buzz. And you’d hear him down there, a few houses down, blowing his calling, When he blew it all the daddy’s around would go grab a duck call and hail back at him, you know. And it was about 1972, I remember sitting on my granddaddy’s blue Buick on the banks of Lake Ferguson for the World Duck Calling Championship. We all just knew he was going to win it and he got beat by a Butch Richenback, actually. He’s from over in Arkansas. And shortly thereafter – I guess because that new single-reed, Arkansas-style call – the politics moved over to Stuttgart, but it was for a long time, held right here in Greenville, Mississippi.
Hank Burdine: I remember my mama telling stories, this is back before the Yentzen duck calls came up and you had these big wooden calls that came out of Arkansas, and mama said that my daddy, he had a big boat and they were mostly goose hunters back then. They would duck hunt in the afternoon for sport, but they were goose hunters. But his best ,friend was a great big man named George Scott from Cleveland Mississippi. And they’d always goose and duck hunt together. Mama said lots of times she’d hear something downstairs and she go down there and my dad would be on the telephone with a duck call. He’d be blowing into the telephone, and he listened while Uncle George blow back in there, said 5, 10 minutes, they’d call ducks back and forth, and they wouldn’t say a word. And then they’d hang the phone up.
Mississippi goose hunting back in the good old days
Ramsey Russell: Why do you think that was, Hank, that they were so big into goose hunting? That had to have been in the 50s and 60s.
Hank Burdine: Back in those days, if you go back to the history of duck hunting in the Mississippi Delta, we didn’t have all the rice fields back here then, we didn’t have all the land-leveled fields, bean fields. You had corn, but the corn was being grown on a heavy buckshot soil to feed livestock like the mules that planted the cotton. So you had Swan Lake Hunting Club down here, which is the oldest incorporated hunting club in the State of Mississippi.
Ramsey Russell: And that’s now federal wildlife refuge?
Hank Burdine: Yeah, it’s a wildlife refuge right now. And then you had Wapanocca, the big areas up around in Arkansas. You had all these other big club areas that were flooded timber. You have Beaver Dam Lake, big lake up there in Tunica County, oxbow lake right off the river. So that was the majority of the duck hunting. But if you read some Nash Buckingham stuff, he talked a great deal about goose hunting also. And it was after the ‘27 flood and they were able to channelize the Mississippi River to speed the water down to keep the floods away and get the levees going. That they created Lake Ferguson as a slack-water harbor. And that lake allowed folks to have big boats that they could keep at the Greenville Yacht Club that they just pulled an old quarter boat barge in to make a yacht club out of it. My Daddy had a big 48-foot twin screw Matthews’s boat that they would go out on the river. Big Joe Bordelon had a steel-hulled boat called the Gulf Pride. He was in the Gulf oil business. Big Joe Verdin had a big boat. And these folks would go out of town on the river and they’d spend 3-4-5 days, sometimes weeks at a time. Well, the migration of your geese back in those days, the Canada geese was humongous. It was huge. And all these big sandbars that would shift from year to year and that was the ticket. Goose hunting was what they really enjoyed doing. And in the afternoons they would take little john boats and get them from slashes and they’d shoot ducks in the afternoon. So that was the beginning of the real duck hunting around here. And as the other areas began to be developed, you had Fighting Bayou outside of Ruleville, Mississippi, that came into play with group out of Jackson. You had Coca-Cola Woods Woods. You had York Woods. You had all these other areas that were natural habitats that these ducks have been coming to forever and ever.
And then along that time with slashes and sloughs, we started leveling land to help farming around here. And that’s when I had Willow Run down there, and we had some natural breaks in there and from slough areas that we could flood. Had pretty good duck hunt and all of a sudden over two- or three-year period I realized my ducks were leaving. I didn’t have the ducks that I used to have. So one year I got in the fella’s airplane, I said, “Let’s fly around and look, let’s see, I’m hearing a lot more shooting than I used to hear.”
Last week of the season we got up and flew and Leroy Percy Park was an oasis in a sea of flooded fields. They had begun leveling those fields that were rice farmers around here that we’re leveling. They were leaving rice out for the ducks who come in, flooded soybean fields. All of a sudden, my little old natural break wasn’t such a honey hole anymore because there was so much food available. That’s what really has happened around here now. A duck is going to where the food is.
Sonny Rich, one of the greatest duck hunters I’ve ever known with Whiskey Chute, hunting Whiskey Chute down at Longwood, Mississippi. He always told me, he said, “Hank, if you want to be a good duck hunter, you got to go where the ducks want to be. You can do everything you want but if the ducks don’t want to be there, they ain’t coming there. You’ve got to go where the ducks want to be.” And that’s one thing that has made the Jimmy Presswood duck boat so prevalent in duck hunting is that when they first started building them, you had Fred Bordelon, you had Ernie Lane, you had Dr. Joe Pulliam, you had Dr. Suarez. They all got, “Man, you got to build me one of these boats, build me one these boats, dammit!” Well, they didn’t really know where to go, but Joe Pulliam had a J3 Cub airplane. Now back in the forties and fifties, Sonny Rich and all that bunch, they had no J3 cubs too. They flew the river and they’d find the ducks and then wait on first light in the morning. They’d take off in those J3 cubs, go land on the sandbars. And then go over and set up and and duck hunt, out of an airplane like that. Well, Joe Pulliam, he would fly in the afternoon, find the ducks, and with the river maps at the Corps of Engineers having all that, and they’d say “All right, here’s where the ducks are. Let’s find a place we can put in the water” and then hear those ugly, we call it the Ugly Duck Boat, a flotilla, they are model. And then they had hit before daybreak with the boats and you could run that river with bright spotlights, shining on the buoys, the river markers, the sign posts on the bank. Get set up on those ducks before daylight ever came.
And you were never cold in the boats because you have a propane tank outside. The gas tanks were outside, you had a heater in there, and you could fire that heater up. Jimmy Presswood told me one morning when we were duck hunting outside of a boat, sitting down the slue and ducks were coming in and Jimmy started shaking, you have got the shivering. I said, “Jimmy, you okay?” It wasn’t that cold. He said, “Hank, I’m about to freeze to death.” I said “Jimmy, it’s not that cold.” He said, “I’ve never been this cold, Hank.” I said, “Jimmy, you’ve been duck hunting all your life.” He had about 110 duck bands on his land. He says, “Hank, I’ve never hunted in anything but blue jeans and tennis shoes.” He’s always in the duck boat. Hunting every day of the season, no matter what the weather was. And the beauty of those boats is the worst the weather is, as we duck hunters know that’s the best weather for the ducks. But that’s when those boats shine, they’ll be covered.
Ramsey Russell: When all these fields out here freeze over.
Hank Burdine: When all these fields freeze over and the river’s rising, and you’ve got those grass fields going underwater. That’s when that river turns on like gangbusters and that’s when you need to have an Ugly Duck Boat.
Dominic Signa: When I first got married, of course I’ve been married 17 years now, but when I first got married a buddy and I worked at Stoneville. We worked all summer long and all our overtime would be time and half off for duck season. We’d hunt every single day. That picture right there was the last day of duck season, last year we were cooking porterhouse and ribeyes on that duck boat, on my buddy’s duck boat.
Ramsey Russell: You showed me a picture on the cell phone, there’s two bam-bam size porterhouse steaks on a griddle in a super warm looking duck boat.
Dominic Signa: While we were shooting ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Practically wearing a short sleeve shirt.
Dominic Signa: That’s right. So yes, I had a 17-foot jon boat, basically with a 90 horse-power outboard on it. On the best days of duck hunting was when the waves froze on the side of your boat. It was so cold, but when you got there and got set up, and it was an open cab boat with the fold up blind, when we got there and got set up, you could literally sit there. We wouldn’t shoot every duck that came in because we don’t want to end so quick. You could take your time and enjoy the whole week stay there all day and cook lunch, cooked breakfast, and just shoot greenheads throughout the day. It was so much fun. The river roaring in the background, towboats coming down the river, and these mallards, groups of them just working in the blue skies, and its 20° out there. But so much fun.
Ramsey Russell: I just like to see a 20° day in Mississippi again.
Dominic Signa: That’s right. You don’t get many of them.
Ramsey Russell: It’s been a while. Hank, you know, you were talking about the Canada geese. That brought back memories of, of course, I was born in the 60s, and I remember my grandfather talking about goose hunting on the river. And I assumed it would have been 50s because he was a young man. He learned to fly in World War Two in the Air Force. And he had a plane, he would take off in a bean field just outside of town, kind of where Fava Brothers is now. They’d go hit that river in the sand bar and dig in for a week. As I put away my daddy stuff when he passed, I stumble across a box full of photos, but also some goose camp notes and records to include the grocery list, shopping stuff and their budget. He would fly and scout and he would land on sandbar. They would come in out of lake first out of a boat that I can best describe, it looked like something you see on the Mississippi Sound. Just a big old boat. And they would hunt Canada geese by digging pits.
Hank Burdine: Digging pits.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right, digging pits and goose hunt. And these folks weren’t wearing this newfangled campo. He was wearing an uninsulated jumpsuit from World War Two.
Hank Burdine: Until I was half-grown, my only coat I had was from the Army Navy Store. And we towed decoys in a burlap bag. We didn’t have all that fancy stuff we have now. Didn’t have three-wheelers and four-wheelers. You’d slug out across the bean field for, it’d take an hour-and-a-half to go a quarter- mile out through there.
Ramsey Russell: Just by-gone times.
Hank Burdine: Wearing old Red Ball rubber boots.
How has the Mississippi Delta landscape and duck hunting changed?
It’s often said that a man is due two things in his life: a good woman and a good dog. And I had both of them at that time.
Ramsey Russell: What are some of the changes you’ve seen here in the Delta, good and bad, since those days?
Hank Burdine: Well, we got a lot more duck hunters, I believe. And we got a lot more areas formed to hunt because so many people are flooding bean fields and all like that. The mobility is so much greater because of your four-wheelers. You got all these $20,000 Polaris rigs with these $2,000 Quack Racks on top. You got all these flapping-wing decoys, and these swimming ducks and all these little squirting ducks and all like that. We killed a lot of ducks before them things we never even thought about. So, I don’t know. I don’t know whether it’s all for the better because of all the technology that we have now. I mean, when I had Willow Run and my wife said that, we had to always sleep with the window open in the bedroom, right there in the middle of the woods. I wasn’t 200 yards from one of my duck holes. And she said, “Close that window.” I said, “No, honey, I won’t close.” And she said “It’s cold.” I said, “Well, you just get a little bit closer, I’m leaving that window open because that was my alarm clock when I hear them ducks go quack in the morning, time for me to get up and go.”
There’s one funny story I’ll tell. My buddy Tommy Barnes and I, it was the last day of duck season and I had a Grumman square-back canoe, little old mercury on the back of it. It was deadly on the ducks going through Willow Run slough and getting where you need it to be. And it had rained in it and it had water sloshing in the back of it. I had my little gas can back then. I knew I had gas in it. Well, we were coming back from pretty successful day. Had a whole big string of mallards in there. And my dog, Bud, was a big red Chesapeake Bay retriever. It’s often said that a man is due two things in his life: a good woman and a good dog. And I had both of them at that time.
We were coming back down to slough and it was raining and the gas can was sloshing around in the back and the dog and all those decoys. I had decoy bag in there, too, and the ducks on the strap. Had two legal limits of ducks, now. Well, all of a sudden that gas can’t flopped one way and the sucker holes coughed on the gas and the motor stopped. Well when it did, the swale behind the boat came over the back of that boat and swamped it. And there we were in the middle of Willow Run Slough, and that boat was going underwater and we had our waders on and everything. Well, it wasn’t deep enough that we couldn’t crawl out of there because the dog swam out, decoys floating, everything like that. We got out of there and it was cold. Grabbed the guns, walked back to the house and got warmed up and I said, “Let’s go get everything.”
So we go back out there and there the decoys we’re floating. There was the gas can in the boat. We threw the rope on it and pulled it in, but couldn’t find the ducks. Did not know where that string or however many ducks it was, two legal limits. I said, “What is going on?” About that time that dog of mine walked by, bloody and he had mud all over his head, all over himself. He’s covered with that old buckshot mud. I said, “What has that dog been doing?” By the time I looked at the corner of my eye and there was a duck foot sticking up out of the mud. He had gone out there and drug that whole string of mallard ducks back into the bank, dug a hole and buried them. He said, “Y’all fools, you sent me out there, we get all them ducks, you sink the boat and you go back to the house!” He wasn’t going to stay over there, he went and buried all them ducks.
Dominic Signa: That’s a good dog!
Hank Burdine: That’s how much sense that dog had.
Ramsey Russell: You know, hearing you talking, I just had this thought. I think those Ugly Duck Boats are a prime example of hunt smarter, not harder. There’s no sense in you sitting out there freezing to death when you can be warm and hunting a duck. But you know, technology is such, I know the folks, I use Mojo Decoy. I dang sure use a Quack Rack. I mean, a lot of technology has come along. But I tell you what, its just the older I get and the longer I’ve been duck hunting, the more I believe that the future of duck hunting lies in its past, when a man’s experience and skill set is what matters.
Hank Burdine: That’s true.
Ramsey Russell: And not the technology.
Hank Burdine: That’s true. And it’s like what I call the Duck Doctor, my friend Bubba Tomlinson, Ruleville, Mississippi, Fightin’ Bayou. He always said, If you have enough wind to rustle a gnat’s feathers, you better set your decoys up based on that wind.” That’s one thing I’ll never forget Bubba said. You’ve got to know what that wind is doing. And with the technology and all that we have today, and with these drones, you send a drone up, look around, and see where the ducks are on the back of your place, this kind of stuff. But as far as hunting on that river, let me say one thing, there’s nothing more dangerous in the middle of the winter when it’s cold than that Mississippi River.
I did a story with Andrew Zimmern out there, hunting on the Arkansas River for the Food Channel Network. And I told him, I said, “Andrew, we have a lot of fun on this river, but we don’t play on the river.” You can’t afford to do that. One mistake is your last mistake on that Mississippi River. I’ve seen a log shoot 30 feet clear out of the water one morning trying to get in off that Mississippi River when it was caught up underneath that current. It broke loose and it shot clear up like a submarine, like a missile out of the water. If you’re going on that river, go safe. Go in a wide bottom boat, tall gunnels on that side. Take enough horsepower to get yourself out of trouble if you get caught in the air or current. Don’t be going out there in a little 12-foot john boat like we used to do. I’ve spent many mornings out there and those things can’t do it anymore. And if you realize the design of these Presswood duck boats, they’re safe.
Jimmy Presswood doesn’t build them anymore, but you can get them custom built. It’s the technique, the whole concept of how the top works on the boat. And we went from flat bottom boats that would beat your teeth out when you got out on that Mississippi River. Never bothered Jimmy Presswood. Hell, we’re hunting Lake Whittington. We’re not going to go out in that Mississippi River. And we started building modified V-bottom boats. Monarch Boat Company started building, F&F over there in Monticello, Arkansas started building them, and they’re safe, they’re warm, they’re secure and they’re deadly for duck hunting. But just don’t get out on that river, big water in something that’s not safe.
Duck hunting on the Mississippi River can be very dangerous
Ramsey Russell: That Mississippi River is no longer really even a river. I mean, the Corps of Engineers has got that thing into, it’s like you say, that whole engineering product of getting that current straight and getting that current going, too water volume coming in . Twenty some-odd years ago, before I had kids, I discovered the Mississippi River myself. You know, my roots were in the Mississippi Delta. We came back over and started hunting that river. And we always watched the Greenville stage, like we say, when the water gets up and those cocklebur and grass fields started going underwater, we would just putt along until we found them. Set up shop and go. It was just glory days. And I had a 15-foot. by 42-inch john boat, 25-horse outboard. And we didn’t do nothing crazy. We didn’t run across the channel to speak of and played it right.
I stopped by to drink coffee at my granddaddy’s house and drank a cup of coffee one morning. My dad, who made the best cup of coffee in the world. Showed him all those mallards. And I remember asking him that morning about the good old days and he said, “The good old days are now.” He said, “Look at this.” He said, “Man, back when I grew up, back in the 70s, we was on that points limit and what we shot and when the ducks were down everything.” He said, “We couldn’t go out and shoot ducks like you, son.” He said, “Are you crazy? Where did you kill all these?” And I told him. And man, he just gave me a look that I hadn’t seen in a long since I was a little boy in trouble. He put his hand on me and said, “Son, promise me you’ll never take this boat on the Mississippi River in a south wind. He said,”Promise me that.” And he said, “Son, promise me you’ll never take this boat on that river going anywhere in the south wind.”
Well, the river got just right and we had a spot that one year we call Broke Foot. You had to stand on the front of boat, walking the willow trees down to get back up in that spot, which don’t exist until the rivers at nearly 50 feet. And then it was just a matter of taking turns. Take turns. Who’s going to shoot? Drakes only. It was that good hunting. And we’ve been on for about two weeks like it. And river come hard out of south one day. You know, all we had to do was run right across this little chute, not across the channel. We were protected by an island and everything was smooth as silk goin in. We turned around and came back out with our limits. And that first big swell, that south wind, everything in the boat floating. We had an inch of free board to spare and all I could remember was my daddy’s last words, “don’t get on that river in the south wind.” And you can do is wrap up on decoy bags. And pray.
Hank Burdine: And what happened is just that.
Ramsey Russell: Just holding on to decoy sacks so you can float if the boat goes under. We managed to find to protect water, pull the plug and get it to drain, but it was a religious experience. Then one morning it snowed, everything was perfect. The wind was not out of the south and we come out of Louisiana side, Lake Providence side. Came across and hit that island sandbar. Last black duck, I remember shooting in the state of Mississippi was on that morning. We shot a snow goose, a blue goose, a specklebelly, a handful of honkers, and duck limits. And then we got ready to go back and run across. It was the most beautiful day, that water was so pretty. I never saw so many tug boats coming at you every which-away. It started getting dark, and rule number one I don’t get on the Mississippi River in dark. I want to better see. And the duck hunt is good, we can see, and we wait and wait and wait. And finally looked like we had a spot. We just had to go out and channel, run a quarter-mile up. And that tugboat was bearing down on the whole lot quicker than it seemed and we ducked up in that chute. I had to put on bank and that big old swell off that tugboat, that 18-foot. swell it seemed, put us on the bank. When I got out, my knees buckle. It scared me so bad. And I had a one year-old little boy at the time.
Hank Burdine: At the house?
Ramsey Russell: Yes. said, “I’m going to find somewhere else to duck hunt. I ain’t going to die on this river for duck.”
Hank Burdine: Well, what happened when your wind blows out of the south and your river current about six or seven knots is heading south and that wind blowing against it? You don’t want to be out there.
Ramsey Russell: Yes, sir. Don’t want to be out there. That’s a fact.
Celebrities that Have Eaten at Doe’s Eat Place Over The Years
Ramsey Russell: Wrapping back up with this, Doe’s Eat Place, tell me this. Doe: who are some celebrities, I mean, besides Mr. Hank Burdine right here, some of the other celebrities been eating here for a while?
Dominic Signa: Well, funny story. I was cooking one night about two years ago. I was up there in the front cooking and in our restaurant where we cook is where you walk into the restaurant. So the ones cooking your steak are the first ones you’re going to see coming into the restaurant. So I’m sitting there cooking, it’s a busy night. And I hear the door slam and turn around and this guy staying there with his wife. And just instinctively I say, “Head right on back there, they’ll seat you, go ahead and make yourself at home,” and go turn back around and start cooking steaks. And about 15 minutes goes by. And this one of the other customers came up to me and said, “Hey, is that the owner of the Dallas Cowboys back there?” And I said, “Surely not, I would recognize him if he came in.” And my mom was working up here at the time. And she said, “I really think that’s him sitting in there.” And I poked my head in here and he’s sitting right, Jerry Jones and his wife was sitting right here in the kitchen, eating. And he has come out several times since, and just as nice as can be. You don’t really know how to take some of the celebrities. But he was just truly nice. He let my mom put on the Super Bowl rings. You know, I don’t know how much the ring costs, $20-$30-$40,000, but she’s walking around the restaurant showing everybody his rings and he’s loving it. And I asked him, “So what brings you here?” And he says, “Oh, we were down in Florida, scouting some kid and we were heading home and I asked my wife if you want to stop in and eat a Doe’s steak.” So they landed at the Greenville airport, got a car, drove here and ate and were going to drive back and fly home. So that was a really, really neat story there to have him come in here.
Ramsey Russell: What’d they order to eat?
Dominic Signa: Porterhouse!
Ramsey Russell: Porterhouse.
Dominic Signa: And Willie Nelson has been in here, way before my time. I just hear stories.
Hank Burdine: I remember packing up, back when we could, packing up hot tamales and freezing them and putting them in and shipping them to Willie Nelson. Poteen, somebody was his stage manager’s name and they would call in, “Willie wants some hot tamales.” We’d send them hot tamales. Sometimes we pack up steaks and send them. Wherever they were on the road, Willie wants some hot tamales, he gets hot tamales.
Dominic Signa: Whenever they were filming for Days of Thunder in Memphis, Memphis Motor Speedway, I think it is, Tom-
Ramsey Russell: Tom Cruise?
Dominic Signa: Tom Cruise actually ordered food from here and they flew in, picked it up and flew it back to him. And the story goes, he never paid us. He gave us all autographed pictures, we have autographed pictures hung all over. But I don’t think we ever received the papers.
Ramsey Russell: I would’ve rather been paid than get Tom Cruise’s autograph.
Hank Burdine: Well, when they were filming Oh, Brother Where Art Thou that whole crew’s came in, George Clooney, all that bunch would come in here, and oh yeah, it’s a funny story on him. First time they were in here, now, he went to pay with his credit card and they had just issued him a new credit card but they hadn’t activated it yet. So his secretary had to put it on hers.
Dominic Signa: It’s really neat being right here in Greenville, Mississippi and not knowing who’s going to come in through the doors. Randy Travis was in here the other night. I mean I could go on and on. Dolly Parton. Of course, that was before my time. We have an old autograph book, guestbook, her name’s in there. Johnny Cash’s name’s in there, too.
Hank Burdine: Liza Minnelli. Liza Minnelli used to come in here, I’ve been in here when she’s in there.
Dominic Signa: Some of the Lynyrd Skynyrd guys were in here.
Hank Burdine: Oh, yeah. And Liza Minnelli’s mama, what was her name? The real famous singer, they’ve all been in here.
Dominic Signa: Truly, I’m blessed to be passed down a chance to be part of this.
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: Guys, I appreciate y’all coming on today, I have enjoyed this. I’ve learned so much about iconic Doe’s Eat Place restaurant that has got more award accolades than I would guess any restaurant in the world, let alone the state of Mississippi, its most iconic. And you mentioned carry out, y’all do carry out with folks listening around the country or they better order what? Hot tamales, steaks, just whatever?
Dominic Signa: Yeah, well we are not federally inspected to ship out tamales across Mississippi state lines. But if you know someone in town that would like tamales shipped to them, we can freeze them and have them ready to be shipped and then someone can come. But locally, yes we do carry-out and delivery within Washington County, Mississippi for as far as that goes. But yes, we always have hot tamales ready to go. If you want them frozen, call ahead of time, we can have them ready. If you want to pick up a steak on the road or passing through, we can have that ready too. Just give us a shout.
Ramsey Russell: Well, Mississippi is a heck of a duck destination. Heck of a great place to come for vacation, whether you into the blues culture, or good eating, or fishing, or duck hunting or goose hunting. I would highly encourage everybody, listen, if you find yourself in the State of Mississippi, find Doe’s Eat Place. Y’all deserve to taste real Mississippi. Doe’s Eat Place. Thank y’all for listening and we’ll see you next time. Remember, it’s Duck Season Somewhere.
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It really is Duck Season Somewhere for 365 days. Ducks Season Somewhere takes me year-round to worldwide destinations where I meet the most interesting people. I’m your host Ramsey Russell. Join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome to Duck Season Somewhere podcast.