Despite numerous awards, constantly getting rated as one of Denver's top restaurants and a reputation as a celebration spot, the sixteen-year-old Fruition at 1313 East 6th Avenue in central Denver is not fine dining. In fact, says owner Alex Seidel, it's not fancy at all.
"Fruition was meant to be approachable food, and I opened up with renditions on chicken noodle soup, oysters Rockefeller and carbonara with a spin," Seidel notes. "There was never a white tablecloth in there; it was just supposed to be a nice restaurant you could get good food at and not overpay."
These goals remain, and those white tablecloths you may imagine when conjuring up a successful, seasonal restaurant with a tasting menu, well, they truly have never existed here. But it's easy to see why many consider Fruition to be a place to celebrate — and perceive it as being more high-end than it actually is.
"Because of the quality of the food, beverage and service programs over the years, it's always been known for its service. I think it got that [fancy] moniker over time," Seidel says. And, he adds, "people started celebrating their birthdays and anniversaries, popping the question, and made it the second-date spot, so it got to be where you would go to celebrate."
Seidel wants people to continue to celebrate at Fruition, but also hopes that customers will pop in on a Wednesday night because they crave a solid meal without fuss. It's meant to be more New York City bistro style than an extravagant dining experience, he explains, and regulars make up a large portion of the clientele.
"My favorite aspect of the restaurant is the curation of experience — and coming from someone that has worked over a decade in fine dining, Fruition perfectly balances high-class cuisine and an approachable atmosphere," says Ren Dawe, who has been a regular guest since 2020. "The Fru crew are serving up some of the best and most creative food in the area right now, and they've managed to curate this perfectly cozy experience that makes their high caliber of effort both incredibly digestible and easy to enjoy."
Prices reflect the status of the restaurant, too. Small plates range from $17.17 for a winter citrus salad or $20.20 for grilled octopus; main courses cost $42.42 for the braised lamb shank over polenta, and $26.26 for celery root falafel with white yam hummus. The Cru Menu, aka tasting menu, runs $90.90 for five courses. If those price tags look strange, it's because 1 percent of every sale goes to Zero Food Print, a nonprofit helping farmers with regenerative farming.
"If you are smart about creating a menu, you can give something to people that doesn't cost an arm and a leg," says Seidel. "I just don't think people have to pay ridiculous prices for good food, and I think that's been part of our consistency."
Eschewing expensive items such as caviar, wagyu and piles of white truffle is one way the team at Fruition keeps the menu less pricey, too. Seidel adds that he usually goes for cuts of meat that aren't the most popular, which also helps with the overall cost. While he doesn't spend a lot on "fancy" ingredients, the foods that do appear on the plate have always been top-notch — think locally and humanely raised proteins, sustainable fish, fresh vegetables from local farms and well-made cheeses.
Fruition and Seidel's other spot, Mercantile Dining & Provisions in Union Station, also use their own bakery, Füdmill. This means that the bread not only gets made with freshly milled grains, but is delivered daily, and the team has complete quality control. These aspects elevate Fruition without making the restaurant a fine-dining spot.
Jarred Russell, who started as executive chef last August, agrees. Given that Russell came from a three-year stint at Thomas Keller's lauded French Laundry — which most definitely is a fine-dining spot — his sentiment has more clout behind it. For example, he says, Fruition doesn't employ sixty chefs and prep cooks; in the morning, it's usually just him and chef Eamonn Keyes doing all the early preparation for dinner service.
"It's way less complicated at Fruition. We don't have the guy over there picking thyme leaves for six hours," says Russell. "I think we are just trying to do elevated neighborhood cuisine."
Russell treats the menu the same way Seidel originally did — by taking something familiar and giving it a twist. On a recent visit, this meant sampling the buttermilk-fried maitake mushroom slider served on a Füdmill potato roll, a vegetarian take on the hot chicken craze; and the slow-cooked swordfish on grilled bread, which brought to mind a high-class, open-faced tuna melt. The "Caesar" salad is made with strips of kohlrabi, and dishes such as the roasted half-chicken or spaghetti alla chitarra are comfort food favorites.
"They manage to take home-style meals and comfort foods and elevate them to a whole new level," lauds Dawe, who can still remember the first bite he had at the restaurant, which was, in his opinion, the perfect pea soup. "The staff's teamwork and passion for their craft is apparent, and it brings an energizing climate to the space. It is really easy to sit back and truly enjoy the great work they are putting out."
That's exactly what Seidel hopes for in Fruition. To be a regular spot that does things really well, whether you're visiting for a quick weeknight bite or celebrating a milestone. In the end, the eatery can be as fancy as the customer wishes, all without the crisp white linens or expensive dishes.