At The Little Food Inn, you won’t be indulging in your ordinary brand of comfort food. From country fried chicken and waffles to meatloaf and mashed potatoes, each with its own twist, hungry guests are in for a treat at this Pompton Plains spot. Owners Dana and Aaron VanDecker have everything to do with the warmth at The Inn.
Each and every detail, from the antique French paintings, bold rooster motifs and vintage mismatched dishes to the pallet doors (hand-built by the VanDeckers’ friend, Nate Dorka) enhances the rustic feel. As a result, just to step inside is to receive a warm welcome.
“People feel like they are at home here,” Dana shared with Best of NJ.
The Little Food Inn Gets Its Start
Quite notably, the Inn in Pompton Plains is celebrating 10 years in business this year. After first opening its doors in 2008 as The Little Food Café, a kitchen fire forced them to close.
It wasn’t until 2016 that the restaurant reopened a few doors down from its original location. Looking back, it was a serendipitous sequence of events.
Dana explained that the larger building draws increased attention from locals and passersby.
“We had a great regular clientele at the café. This helps make neighboring towns more aware of us.”
In addition to raising a five-year-old son, the husband-and-wife duo are a true team at the family-friendly BYOB.
Dana cooks and creates the menus and daily specials while Aaron takes responsibility for much of the backend work. It is an ambitious endeavor as they offer three meals a day, in addition to catering.
The pair come from Italian families in New York, Jersey City and Hoboken.
Dana reminisced about her grandmother’s comforting cuisine as a child. Although she doesn’t have culinary training, her passion for food is clear.
“Everything I do is created around food. I am always looking for new ideas. I like to see what others are doing and create my own version.”
When the couple opened their own restaurant, they branched out from their families’ traditional footsteps. They put a spin on classic flavors and cooked up dishes bursting with character.
Cozy Fare with a Flair
“I wanted to offer foods that I didn’t see in this area,” Dana shared.
Italian Pot Roast Ragu is their signature dinner entrée and Dana’s favorite. The family-inspired recipe consists of a slow cooked roast, fresh peas and pasta sautéed in savory gravy and sprinkled with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The much-loved Brunch Burger is topped with fried egg, bacon, avocado, American cheese and mayonnaise.
In the winter, the Thanksgiving Wrap warms body and soul. Unique fare like the Ahi Tuna Wrap, Parmesan Truffle Tots, Chicken Marsala Pot Pie and Salmon Scramble with Avocado Toast add pizazz to the selection.
There is something for everyone at the Inn. Dana estimates 40 percent of the guests are gluten-free so they serve special wraps, rolls, breads and pasta.
Many dishes can also be modified upon request. For others, vegetarian and vegan options abound. The chefs have worked at the Inn since its beginning and craft everything by hand, including sandwich meats and dressings.
They receive local produce and search for the best quality ingredients, even venturing to Staten Island for authentic gnocchi.
As for the future, Dana’s eyes sparkle with ambition. The Inn is the second location of The Little Food Café in Bayonne, which is run by her in-laws. She dreams about one day opening a marketplace with a restaurant and event venue.
“I could see it as a franchise one day.”
For now, the crew will continue to welcome diners as family and delight them with culinary inventions.
Dana emphasizes, “lots of places are cold, chain restaurants. The Inn is a place for everyone.”
The Little Food Inn
575 Newark Pompton Turnpike
Pompton Plains, NJ 07444
Monday-Saturday: 10:00am-3:00pm, 5:00pm-10:00pm
All Photos: © Dana VanDecker / The Little Food Inn