Jettie Lee Jr. is serving up food on Noble Road
Lee’s Deli and Catering is a new food addition to the businesses on Noble Road.
The walls are freshly painted. The floor looks new. There’s a window where you can place your order, and chairs where you can wait. Located at 2847 Noble Road, it’s Jettie Lee Jr.’s place.
Lee calls it "home cooking fast food," which may seem a contradiction. Everything is made-to-order, so it’s not that fast. “If you want it right away you have to call ahead,” Lee said with a smile. The menu is extensive and includes potato skins, fried okra, bourbon-grilled salmon, fish sandwich, to name just a few items. All the fish and chicken are fresh-cut and made with Lee's own recipes.
Lee has his specials. The Susie Q is a chicken leg and thigh for 99 cents. It is named for his grandmother, and made using her recipe. Another is the Half ‘n’ Half Philly, which features steak and chicken, onion, mushroom, bell pepper, cheddar and mozzarella, fries and a salad with ranch dressing.
A customer, Joseph Jackson, comes in. “I want to order some things, but what about this honey apple barbeque sauce,” he wants to know. Tunisha Dix, Lee’s partner who worked on the renovations with him and is helping out now with the cooking, brings out a jar of the sauce.
Jackson tells Lee that he tasted that sauce at his brother’s funeral in December and he wants more. “I was looking for you to open. You know my wife,” Jackson said. “You went to high school together.” Right away, Lee recognizes her name from Cleveland Heights High School. Lee graduated in 1987. They reminisce as Dix cooks Jackson’s four orders of chicken.
That’s how Lee has built his business: Circles of friends he knew from Heights High keep expanding to include more and more people. He has been catering for the past eight years and so he has built many close ties—a Jettie Lee community.
So far, Lee said, he knows about 50 percent of the people coming in; the other 50 percent are from the neighborhood.
“I get my haircut next door every 10 days,” Jackson tells him. “So you will be seeing me.”
Lee grew up in Cleveland Heights, attending Coventry and Roxboro schools. After high school he served four years in the U.S. Navy.
Soft classic rock plays in the waiting area. Lee is also a DJ and works at three places on the East Side. “Music is my first love, cooking is a close second,” he said. "When I was 4 years old, I would go to sleep at night listening to Wilson Pickett’s "25 Miles.”
“Tunisha and I put it together—the fryers, the grill, even the freezer—and she designed the sign out front,” Lee said. Dix is working on a degree in early childhood education at Cleveland State University. They are raising six children together.
By the time we are done talking, my Susie Q chicken is ready to go. It’s hot, crunchy and delicious.
Lee’s Deli and Catering (216-832-7901) has been open since March, and its grand opening is scheduled for May 12. The deli is open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Eleanor Mallet wrote a column for the Plain Dealer and is an author of two books.