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Necce's transports diners to Italian trattoria

Imported Italian beverages now complement the authentic Italian cuisine at Necce's Ristorante. Denese Jokela has partnered with nephews to bring a taste of Tuscany to Main. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

An epicurean evolution has taken place on the third block of Main.

Denese Jokela's eatery has evolved from a café to an Italian bistro, her journey to Italy a few years ago and her passion for cooking "stirring" the initiative.

"This is truly from the heart and soul," she said of her "life's purpose. I can't wait to get here" each day.

"It's exceeded my wildest expectations."

Moving from Jack Pine Café's traditional fare to Italian cuisine has been her goal from the onset.

Jeff Reish of Summerhill Farm, came on board in November to introduce her and the staff to "old school" Italian food. He'd worked in a restaurant on the West Coast that specialized in Northern Italian fare.

Nephews Quinn Bishop and Ryan Miller, with backgrounds in the restaurant industry, have partnered with Jokela. And daughter Peyton is now greeting people in Italian.

Jokela obtained a wine and beer license in January, the beverages considered a complement to lunch and dinner in Italy.

"I strive for authenticity - with a bit of magic," she said of Necce's (her nickname) Ristorante. "I hope to transport people to Italy, while providing a dining experience that's affordable."

Jokela has moved from the kitchen to the ristorante floor, diners' compliments to the chef providing "renewed vigor.

"But I'm still making sauces," and desserts. "I love to bake. Very few restaurants make in-house desserts," she said of the authentic decadent sweets that "disappear" daily.

The noon menu offers antipasti, soups and salads and sandwiches, with a "grab and go" feature for those in a hurry.

The dinner menu, with specials every night, holds appetizers, salads and pasta, as well as pollo (chicken) and bistecca (beef) entrees.

The Fettuccini Alfredo (with a wild mushroom medley and proscuitto) and Lasagna Classic (layers of Italian sausage, ricotta and signature sauces) have proven to be hits, with Mama's Baked Manicotti (homemade crepes, three cheese filling and marinara) added for good measure.

Area restaurateurs and chefs, including Amy Thielen, are stopping by to sample the fare.

"I'm honored to be a part of this trained camaraderie," Jokela said. "It's so gratifying."

She views Park Rapids' 30-mile radius as an "exciting dining scene" - from Bullwinkle's (Nevis) to Boulders (Walker) to Dorset to Zorbaz. "And there are so many dining options on Main alone," she said.

Necce's Ristorante - "a place for people to sip wine, twirl pasta, break bread and make time" is currently open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. The restaurant will be open "full time" for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday beginning April 15.

Reservations are welcomed; call 237-4625.

Summerhill on Second's Eileen Reish and Jokela are partnering to present an Easter parade fashion show and champagne luncheon as a benefit for the Hubbard County Food Shelf.

The event will begin at noon Saturday, March 31. Tickets are available at Summerhill.