When Lynnette Bryant-Thompson lost a second child to cancer in 2008, she knew she had to motivate herself away from debilitating grief.
The owner of “Netty Q’s” in Menomonie’s Home Town Plaza explained, “After a time of trying to deal with the losses, I began to enjoy cooking shows in a way I never had. I immersed myself in them, and in cooking, wanting badly to get out of my doldrums.”
The mortgage-servicing specialist did not have training or expertise in the restaurant business, but soon decided to retire from what she knew to buy an affordable food trailer for renovation. With the help of her husband, Bob, she readied one for transport and set-up between various sites, including downtown St. Paul as well as seasonal festivals across the region.
“Business went well, so I eventually also opened a very small walk-up restaurant in Stillwater, Minnesota. It was a busy place, but so small I could not attempt some of the dishes I felt most enthusiastic about serving,” Bryant-Thompson said. “I needed room to roll meatballs and hand-make the gnocchi, and the space I had was not adequate for these favorite things I wanted to offer. Also, because some of the limited seating was outdoors, I could only operate it seasonally.”
Last October, Bryant-Thompson closed those doors and began an earnest search for a building to open a full-service restaurant.
‘Old country’ cuisine
“We chose Menomonie for a number of factors — a large one being that the town does not have an Italian restaurant,” Bryant-Thompson said. “That lack seemed promising for me, because my specialty is hand-made, from-scratch cooking that I learned from my former grandmother-in-law, who passed fairly recently in her upper nineties, and who emigrated from Italy.”
It was this woman who impressed Bryant-Thompson with the notable difference in authentic Italian cooking compared to anything she had previously experienced.
“We were having a family Thanksgiving meal,” she fondly reflected. “And all these beautiful dishes were being served. I remember thinking, ‘Where’s the turkey?’ — and that there was none to be seen. But that was fine. The food was so wonderful and from that time, I knew what nurturing through food was about.”
Indeed, Bryant-Thompson relates her emergence from grief over loss of her children into the different kind of “mothering” she does now.
“I do have a grown son who recently married, and I have hopes of being a grandmother some day,” she said. “But in the meanwhile, nurturing people through cooking for them fulfills me and has helped me past my crisis.”
Bryant-Thompson was the recipient of her mentor’s prized recipes, and has been intently working at perfecting them.
“I would say the crab ravioli is my signature dish,” she offered. “The sauce is an Alfredo, with cream and parmesan, so rich there is no need for a flour thickener. It is studded with sweet red peppers and is one of the dishes we put together only as it is ordered, on a ‘make as you go’ basis.”
Netty Q’s menu is comprised of several offerings of this nature, and Bryant-Thompson iis proud of her “less is more” approach as to ingredients. She believes in a select few ingredients, cooking reduction with incorporation of wine, bold flavors as well mellow where appropriate. Bolognese sauce, she said, is her second pick for a signature offering.
“So many times, what is available to consumers is made from ingredients filled with additives, ‘stretchers’, or artificial flavors,” Bryant-Thompson said. “I’ve learned that fewer, real ingredients make for the most flavorful, and wholesome meals.”
She hopes the special methods she observed and now puts into practice will show a marked difference, in comparison with the more commercial cooking she thinks of as quite widespread.
The restaurant is freshly refurbished with accents of European flair, featuring walls and windows adorned by complementary artwork. This and plentiful seating makes Netty Q’s ideal for special occasions. A children’s menu offers multiple selections for under $5 each, with adult entrees, salads and sandwiches listed at under $10.
Netty Q’s is located at 1502 Ninth Street East, in Menomonie’s Hometown Plaza. Call 715-309-2779 for details and for hours of operation or visit www.nettyqs.com
By the way, the food trailer continues to be available for catering and other special events.