A tour de force at Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa
By Monica Parpal Stockbridge
Nestled in the basin of Ranch Creek Valley outside Winter Park, Colorado, Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort and Spa beckons visitors to indulge in a Rocky Mountain retreat. Thriving on a 6,000-acre property, Devil’s Thumb Ranch entices guests to immerse themselves in a rustic yet luxurious experience that, to a city-dweller, feels another world away.
This is especially true in winter, when glistening snow blankets the landscape with breathtaking stillness. Guests come for the world-class cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, a whimsical horse-drawn sleigh ride, or fine accommodations in a lodge or private cabin. And no visitor should miss the opportunity to dine at Devil’s Thumb Ranch, where sustainably focused, locally sourced culinary marvels await.
Step inside the western-chic Main Lodge to find Heck’s, a casual, contemporary ranch-style restaurant. Floor-to-ceiling windows flood the space with sunlight, highlighting the grand, hexagonal central fireplace. Outside, a serene patio overlooks expansive views. Heck’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner from a diverse menu of hearty local meats, vegetarian dishes, and gluten-free selections.
A short walk away is Ranch House Restaurant & Saloon, a comfortable fine-dining destination set in a 1930’s homestead, where many of the original furnishings still reside. Ranch House Restaurant presents farm-to-table dining and nose-to-tail cuisine at its finest, saturated in Rocky Mountain sensibility. Begin with the House-Cured Charcuterie for Two, with selections like Wagyu liver pâté, duck prosciutto, and elk bresaola. For an entrée, choose from favorites like Rocky Mountain Trout with horseradish potato cakes and crispy pork belly, Elk Filet Mignon with pear-mustard chutney, or a signature cut of ranch-raised Wagyu steak, seared to perfection and served with duck confit fries.
Behind it all is acclaimed Executive Chef Evan Treadwell, whose charismatic and generous demeanor has graced Devil’s Thumb Ranch’s dining program for nearly four years. In all, Treadwell has devoted more than a quarter century to cultivating his culinary career, beginning in California.
“California was the original hotbed of the farm-to-table movement,” Treadwell says. “So I became an expert at that. In fact, I was the crazy guy pulling vegetables out of my garden in the ‘70s.” Treadwell’s innovation and talent have earned him national recognition, including the title of Executive Chef of the AAA, Four Diamond Dolphin Bay Resort in California; Central Coast Magazine’s Iron Chef Award; and Wine Spectator Awards at Devil’s Thumb Ranch every year since 2010.
Accolades aside, Treadwell’s passion is sustainable cooking, which aligns with the ranch’s environmentally conscious operational approach.
“We at Devil’s Thumb Ranch are leaders in the sustainability movement,” he says. “We’re creating a template here, not following one.”
At Devil’s Thumb, Treadwell is pioneering a high-quality dining experience in an environmentally friendly way. He and his team source ingredients that promote the earth’s regeneration, not depletion. They serve food full of vibrant colors and nuanced flavors. And they’re working to build a barn and cattle ranch to raise their own Wagyu beef — the first known resort and restaurant to do so — supporting other Colorado ranchers in the interim. Even the drinking water comes from the owners’ own water supply.
“We are continuing to develop our sustainability aspect, and we are gaining momentum every year,” Treadwell says. “I want to commit the remaining 10 or 15 years of my career to this. It’s that important.”
As that momentum grows, so have other opportunities in Grand County. In August of 2014, Devil’s Thumb Ranch Owners Bob and Suzanne Fanch opened Vasquez Creek Inn and Volario’s restaurant on Main Street in Winter Park. Situated inside a former German guesthouse, the renovated inn and restaurant have a European-style mountain ambience — a perfect place to relax and unwind.
At Volario’s, General Manager Mitchell Fox gracefully runs the front of the house, warmly greeting visitors and hotel guests. Barman Extraordinaire Topher Hartfield leads the cocktail program, serving a variety of classic and creative cocktails alongside an outstanding wine list. Executive Chef Treadwell oversees the menu of hearty Italian cuisine, including sharable Antipasti dishes, Pizzettas, pastas, and savory Secondi Piatti. And Sous Chef Andrew Aghajanian — who began his cooking career 10 years ago under Treadwell’s mentorship — takes a leading role in the kitchen.
Prior to opening Volario’s, Treadwell and Aghajanian traveled to northern Italy to explore traditional Italian cooking techniques and bring them back to Winter Park. The result: simply-prepared dishes bursting with complex flavors, like the Bruschetta with housemade pork sausage and stracchino cheese. “This is a recipe I learned in a home kitchen in Italy, and refined for the restaurant dining room at Volario’s,” Aghajanian says.
The combination of culinary training and Italian tradition provides the foundation for many of Volario’s most popular dishes, such as the Pasta Antica. This hearty eggless pasta is made with breadcrumbs instead of flour, and Aghajanian crowns the dish with a sous vide egg. “I love to use Old-World techniques and recipes, adding a modern twist or my own whimsical style,” he says.
“We wanted to use slow food techniques and preserve trends of pasta, gnocchi and aging meats that we learned while abroad,” Treadwell adds. “Our mission is to emulate our travels in Italy, bringing bright and savory flavors to Winter Park.”
Both chefs love to cook in the winter, and this season is the perfect time to plan a visit. With hearty stews, braised meats and root vegetables prepared with authentic Italian techniques, this new restaurant truly has global appeal.
“I love the altitude and the seasons here,” Treadwell adds. “And this year, I’m very much looking forward to winter.”
With this caliber of culinary talent right in their own backyard, Denver locals certainly are, too.