It’s not that Winter Park hasn’t offered tasty grub before. But its resort and downtown dining options have always skewed toward the casual end of the spectrum, forcing those hankering for fancy cheffery to drive 12 miles north to the upscale Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort and Spa in Tabernash. So last summer, the Devil’s Thumb team shortened the commute by opening Volario’s, a northern Italian restaurant located right in downtown Winter Park.
Volario’s occupies the space once filled by Gasthaus Eichler, a longtime Winter Park favorite. Gone are the steins, stuffed birds, and antler wall sconces. Devil’s Thumb owners Bob and Suzanne Fanch conducted a major renovation of the ground-level restaurant and upstairs guest rooms (now called the Vasquez Creek Inn) so that now, the decor blends Western rusticity with clean, contemporary lines. Black-shirted servers wear woodworkers’ aprons. Sleek drum pendants light up the dining room and its leather-topped tables. Modern leather sofas and armchairs fill the bar. The effect is sophisticated but cozy, inviting me to linger over a glass of Barbera d’Alba on a chilly winter night.
The menu pairs Colorado mainstays with northern Italian treatments: The omnipresent Rocky Mountain trout, for example, gets Euro-styled with green lentils and fennel. You’ll also find house-made pastas, pizzas, and small plates such as miacce, or cornmeal crepes. “They’re Italian street food,” explains Andrew Aghajanian, who heads up Volario’s kitchen (under executive chef Evan Treadwell, who supervises all the Devil’s Thumb eateries). In Italy, Aghajanian says, you’ll find miacce stuffed with a hodgepodge of elements, and at Volario’s, they’re a vehicle for roasted tomatoes, artichokes, olives, capers, and creamy ricotta cheese. The pancakes themselves boast a slightly charred crust that contributes a deliciously smoky accent to the medley.
Aghajanian’s limoncello is another Italian import. Along with the classic version, he also makes variations flavored with orange and grapefruit (my favorite). But they’re not always advertised on the drink menu. Aghajanian can’t make enough to keep up with mass demand, so for now, only in-the-know limoncello lovers have access to those tasty liqueurs: Pours go to those who ask.
It also pays to notice the nightly specials. Operating under the Devil’s Thumb umbrella gives Aghajanian access to top-shelf ingredients, albeit in small quantities. The night I ate there, I enjoyed a few morsels of wagyu beef braciole and fresh abalone served à la piccata with Meyer lemons, capers, and Prosecco.
But it’s not all fancy food. The pizzas are proper, the pastas perfectly tender. Service is efficient and super-friendly. And the 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Happy Hour (offered Sunday through Thursday) is a killer deal, with craft drafts going for $3.50, well drinks for $4, and the signature Manhattan for $5.