Aspen Times Weekly: ‘Living Aloha’ at Sure Thing Burger
Sure Thing Burger
Willits Town Center
729 E. Valley Rd., Basalt
AT 5 P.M. LAST SATURDAY, Sure Thing Burger in Willits Town Center is mobbed. Already at least a hundred people have gathered here, three doors down from Starbucks in the Parkside Building, for the restaurant’s first Tap Takeover. A ticket to the event, which boasts unlimited pints of five specialty brews from the new Roaring Fork Beer Company (RFBC) in Carbondale plus all the food one can grab, is just $10. No surprise, then, that smiling patrons of all ages spill out of the 40-seat restaurant onto the lawn.
“Wow, is this for real?” chirps a woman waiting in line. “Ten bucks, all you can drink, plus free food? What a deal!”
Eventually, with a Belgian Blonde in tow, I find Sure Thing co-owner Scott Picard out on the sidewalk. He’s partly out of breath. In between prepping burgers in the kitchen, he’s here, manning his new toy: a shiny stainless-steel competition pit smoker, custom built by barbecue champion friends in Houston, Texas. A glossy Sure Thing Burger logo is painted on the side. It arrived just days ago.
“What goes better than burgers and beer?” Picard asks. He doesn’t wait for me to answer. “Barbecue!” Picard is beaming. He opens the vault to peeks at a foil-wrapped rack of Tender Belly pork ribs; his Milagro Ranch beef brisket was gobbled up by the ravenous masses almost immediately when set out about a half-hour earlier.
“This is a vibrant audience,” Picard muses. He seems genuinely amazed at the turnout. “Look at the age, it’s 21 to 81. I grew up in Aspen. This is what happened when the season closed—this was the Merry-Go-Round, Bonnie’s, the Sundeck. Everything we grew up with in the ’80s, ’90s, that’s now here. This is why we moved (back): community.” He pauses. “Think we could do this every week?”
It’s not a stretch. A lot of people I talk to have heard of Sure Thing Burger, but only some have visited before today’s Tap Takeover. A few shoppers saw the crowd and wandered over to check it out. All agree: The vibe is fun, the food fantastic.
Picard puts Sure Thing is in the “better burger category,” or food made with quality ingredients and freshness a step above the average fast-casual spot. Picard also credits what he calls the perfect burger-to-bun ratio, using a loosely packed, griddle-smashed 7X Beef patty just shy of five ounces. Louis Swiss French Pastry in the ABC bakes the buns — an altitude-adjusted proprietary recipe that originated at the Picards’ original Sure Thing Burger in Lahaina, Hawaii, a modest window-takeaway shop just 150 feet from the ocean’s edge. They’re reminiscent of brioche, though not quite as sweet. “We pick ’em up daily, they don’t deliver,” Picard says. “That shows you our commitment.”
But back to that crucial burger-to-bun ratio. “When they say size matters, its true,” Picard quips. “No one wants a huge bun. Nor do they want or need 8 ounces of burger.”
Paleo dieters and gluten-free customers may order beef and turkey burgers ($6.95) sans bun, served on a big butter lettuce wrap. (Add a fried egg or avocado for $1.50 more). Sure Thing’s menu is straightforward —just burgers, fries, milkshakes, and craft beer on tap — but it also makes a zesty gluten-free Asian noodle salad (chicken optional) and a legit homemade veggie burger. Picard is similarly proud of his Eight Island Sauce, a zippy “nod to our island.” (The couple lived on Maui for 13 years before deciding to return to the Mainland to raise their three young daughters.)
Ultimately, Picard hopes to create community around food and drink. “We represent the new commerce to Basalt: Young families, like (RFBC brewmaster) Chase Engel’s, like ours, our neighbors Matt and Breckie at Mauka (Frozen Yogurt),” he says. “It’s a good synergy.”
Nearby, Engel is chatting with Robbie Bella-Smuts of Four Dogs Wines & Spirits, located next to Whole Foods nearby. The shop hosted a RFBC beer tasting on Friday. “Yesterday was huge success for us,” Bella-Smuts says of the first-time collaboration. “(RFBC) beer is flying off of our shelves.”
Picard anticipates even more partnerships this summer. His new smoker will roll down to Glenwood Springs daily to serve hot lunches to daytrippers at Whitewater Rafting, and it will serve as the centerpiece of special events, including a crawfish boil barbecue around the Fourth of July and another Tap Takeover featuring Denver-based urban winery Infinite Monkey Theorem in August.
“We have a saying: Live Aloha,” Picard says. “That’s a culture. We’re carrying on the legacy of Smoke and El Korita. They pioneered it all. This is the beginning of our legacy. Our aloha.”
Going on a food adventure this offseason? Tell Amanda Rae: firstname.lastname@example.org