Fort Collins Coloradoan
You've crowned the best burger in Fort Collins, but it's not from a burger joint.
Nick's Italian — which draws regular crowds for its Tuesday night "buy a burger, get a free beer" promotion — won the Coloradoan's March Madness burger bracket poll that started with 80 establishments before being narrowed down by more than 15,000 online votes.
"It is surprising to win being that we are an Italian restaurant," said Nick's Italian owner and general manager Nick Doyle. "But it's not surprising because so many people tell me how much they love our burger."
During a recent lunch rush, it was difficult to tell that Nick's was actually an Italian-themed restaurant.
The 1100 S. College Ave. restaurant gave away 100 free burgers March 21, including 70 in its first hour of business. The promotion was to encourage voting for Nick's Italian in the March Madness bracket.
D.C. Oakes Brewhouse & Eatery, Stuft a burger bar and Big Al's Burgers & Dogs were the other Final Four finalists for the Choice City's best burger. Last year's Coloradoan March Madness bracket poll crowned Matador as the town's best breakfast burrito.
During a Facebook Live side-by-side blind taste test of the Final Four contenders, Coloradoan guest judges columnist Kevin Duggan, culture reporter and podcaster Erin Udell and events coordinator Cody Frohman each selected Nick's Italian as their favorite. They too were initially surprised by the Italian restaurant's Cinderella upset run into the Final Four. None had tried the burger prior.
Nick's Italian opened in Fort Collins three years ago without a burger on its menu. The champion Nick’s Burger was added in 2016.
“We wanted to fill that niche for people coming in here who didn’t want a bowl of pasta,” said Brian Shaner, Nick’s Italian's executive chef. “This is kind of a meat and potatoes town.”
Nick’s Italian isn’t the only Choice City Italian restaurant that serves up a burger. Rare Italian in Old Town Fort Collins doubles as an Italian steakhouse and uses dry-aged beef for its burgers.
Shaner, whose long fine dining resume includes previously working under celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, constructed the Nick’s Burger.
The restaurant hand-patties its ground beef that’s sourced from grass-fed Colorado farms. Aged cheddar is melted on top, and it's served with a ketchup- and mayo-based sauce on a brioche bun baked at Denver’s Bluepoint Bakery.
The burger is garnished with onion, tomato, lettuce and a pickle on the side. The $12.75 meal is served with hand-cut french fries.
“With all of our food we approach things with an attitude of ‘less is more,’ ” Shaner said. “We buy quality ingredients, treat them very simply and let the ingredients speak for themselves.”
Shaner unveils the latest seasonal menu at Nick’s Italian this week. It includes new specialty pizzas, salads, pastas and a spring risotto — all more along the lines of the restaurant’s Italian theme.
But he’s also planning on patting plenty of burgers for Nick's Italian's cult following.