When Jeff Osaka closed 12 in August of 2014, it was his 50th birthday. The Ballpark restaurant was his very first in Denver and as he explained, he’d “put his heart and soul” into it. The thought of closing it was undoubtedly difficult. But for the occasion friends, family and loyal patrons gathered on its final night to celebrate Osaka and his accomplishments, many of which were still on the horizon.
“We tried to drink the restaurant dry,” joked Osaka.
Now, over two years later, friends and family will once again gather with Osaka to celebrate the return of the beloved restaurant. But instead of Ballpark the small 50 seat joint now sits in Congress Park at the intersection of 12th and Madison—giving the name a whole new connotation.
When asked why he reopened 12, Osaka says, flatly, “stupidity,” explaining that opening a restaurant never gets any easier. But as he went on, he admitted he loved the seasonally driven cuisine that 12 used to produce. The element of change that comes with a menu dictated by the weather might be what motivates Osaka, since only one dish remains from the previous location — a simple mixed green salad. Everything else is new and, as Osaka explained, a bit lighter with less dairy fats like creams and butter.
“We use more olive oils, more acids in the dishes—vinegar and citrus, something to balance,” said Osaka.
Despite the description, dishes on the opening menu do not appear anything less than decadent with items like crispy pork belly with fermented Brussels sprouts ($13) and rye bread pudding, the short rib raviolo ($12) or even the brioche toad in the hole ($11). These items, which are well suited for winter, will stick around with the cold with some changes to the menu here and there throughout the season.
What might stay permanently can be found at the bottom of the menu. It reads “as a courtesy to others and to create an authentic experience, we request that there will be no substitutions or flash photography.” Osaka explained this doesn’t include allergies, but he does want his customer to trust the chefs and have it as it was intended to be.
And trust him you should—he has done this before.
12 is located at 1160 Madison Street and serves dinner Wednesday through Sunday beginning at 4 p.m. and Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
All photography by Lucy Beaugard.