Picture the scene: A crackling fire; wooden, rustic decor; views of the expansive valley and lawn — in the middle of nowhere. Sound like heaven? To Sussex County locals, this is a little slice of home — and to city dwellers, a foodie getaway. The Walpack Inn is a restaurant in Wallpack Center on Route 615 in Layton, North Jersey that has been “socially-distant since 1949,” as they term it. This popular local spot, which has been open for the last six decades, boasts freshly-baked bread (so good that they sell the mix so you can make it at home), steaks galore, and views for days. And in the age of COVID-19, they’ve created what is now known as “The Walpack Out” — dining outdoors in the beautiful green pastures with lots of space. There’s even an event this Sunday, September 18th as part of the summer concert series. Read on for more about this longstanding hidden gem, The Walpack Inn — which is about an hour from Essex County and worth the trek.
“I moved here when I was 12 years old with my family from Rutherford, New Jersey,” Jim Heigis, owner and son of original owners Louise and Adam, shared. “My grandparents were local farmers, my father, Adam, tended bar, and my mother, Louise, was a great cook. She is still remembered for her spaghetti and meatballs and homemade fruit pies.” Jim took over for his parents after he graduated from hotel + restaurant school at the age of 23.
Rustic animal-filled decor adorns the walls, plant installations hang from the ceiling, bright open windows display views of the backyard — which is a mountain valley and field of all your forest and country getaway dreams — and wooden paneling designs with a historical feel surround visitors.
The OGs to the Walpack Inn know that Jim Woolsey played piano there until he was in his late 90s. Those who frequented back in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s remember his bluesy tunes and vibes till his passing. Today, the piano still sits where he played.
The locale has undergone some expansions from its original size, and during the peak of COVID, it made its way outside outside during “Walpack Out” — the new COVID-19-style pivot for dining outdoors. Edison lights are strung across the property lending to a festive ambiance, and there’s abundant wildlife, especially at dusk.
This has been the case for years, but with COVID-19, like many businesses, Jim + his family had to adjust, and opted for outdoor dining on their expansive back lawn acreage, as well as a concert series (reservations required — which you can do so here). There are still plenty of September and October events to sign up for — including one of the outdoor summer concert series happening this Sunday, September 18th from 4PM to 7PM.
Jim and his pups setting up the stage
The menu is American-style steakhouse, but with a home-y vibe. There’s steak, chicken, fish, some vegetarian options — and a salad bar to get the meal started the right way. Specials change nightly, and the food is always on-point, but above all, the noteworthy standouts are the bread — huge, thick, cake-like loaves that are served warm to guests at the start of the meal sliced up — as well as the homemade pies from the kitchen.
As for the future of the inn, it’s an evolving place, as Jim has had to adjust the past couples of years with COVID-19, noting that in the restaurant business, it’s good to be able to pivot.
“The Inn has always been a work in progress and with the help of my wife and two daughters we will continue to do our very best to accommodate all of you who share our love for this magical valley.”