The barn-shaped building in College View no longer is a Dairy Queen, but that hasn’t stopped patrons from asking for ice cream treats.
“But the orders for chocolate malts have been reduced,” said Jennifer Galdamez, who with her husband, Fred, took over the longtime soft-serve ice cream store and turned it into a Chinese restaurant.
“We politely tell people we no longer sell ice cream and hand them our menu.”
The couple opened Mr. Lee’s on Jan. 4. They gained access to the building in November and spent the next two months applying “paint and TLC,” Jennifer said.
The restaurant is Fred’s dream. He shared the idea with Jennifer when they met 12 years ago. He had learned to prepare American Chinese dishes from an actual “Mr. Lee” when both worked at Golden Wok in Lincoln.
Mr. Lee returned to China several years ago, Jennifer said. She and Fred felt it was appropriate to name their restaurant for him.
“Maybe, some day, our paths will cross again,” she said.
Mr. Lee’s specializes in American Chinese dishes in lunch and dinner sizes. You can order either size any time of the day.
These are Fred’s recipes. He used what he previously learned in a restaurant kitchen and created his own menu, with an emphasis on beef, chicken, pork and shrimp entrees.
You will find dishes typical of small Chinese restaurants, such as cashew chicken, Mongolian beef, General Tso’s chicken and peanut butter chicken, which is more American than Chinese. You also will find fried rice, chow mein, lo mein and egg foo young.
My wife and I started with the four-count king crab Rangoon ($4.49). The crab and cream cheese are wrapped in two wontons. The restaurant also has eight-count single-wrapped Rangoon. The double-wrapped ones give you more crunch.
For an entree, I had pineapple chicken (dinner size, $7.75) with steamed rice, and my wife enjoyed plum sauce chicken with steamed rice (lunch size, $5.49). The lunch size features the entree and rice together on a plate, while the dinner size fills the entire plate with an entree and has the rice on the side in a bowl.
The pineapple chicken is a semi-sweet dish with water chestnuts, pineapple, carrots, mushrooms and breaded fried chicken. The plum sauce chicken features several veggies, including celery, peas and carrots, with nonbreaded chicken in a mild brown sauce. My wife also savored a cup of hot and sour soup ($1.49) on the cold night. Grade: B
There is no table service, with patrons ordering at the counter and having food delivered to them. Mr. Lee’s has a menu board behind the counter, but it’s easier to grab one of the takeout menus and order from it.
Fred is fast. Our food arrived, beginning with the appetizers within five minutes after ordering.
The restaurant features citywide delivery. A $15 minimum purchase is required. There is a $2 delivery fee. Grade: B+
It’s not easy to turn a Dairy Queen into a Chinese restaurant, but the Galdamezes, with help from Jennifer’s mother, have nearly succeeded.
On the outside, the distinctive barnlike structure still looks like a DQ, but inside is a different story.
The lime green walls are detailed with a Chinese theme. One wall features a giant portrait of a samurai. Lights hanging above each table are red in color, complementing the green on the walls.
The restaurant is small, with only five booths for seating, so takeout or delivery may be a better option. Grade: B
The Galdamezes are well aware of Union College and its many Seventh-day Adventist students who practice vegetarianism. That’s why every menu item can be substituted with tofu or made vegetarian.
During our visit, we even heard one couple thank Jennifer for offering the service. They promised to return. Grade: A