Comfort food is pretty simple to define as a college student — it’s a meal whose scent can only be described as nostalgic.
For a restaurant to try to capture that feeling while only using, to quote Ease Modern Comfort Cuisine’s website, “high-end ingredients and fresh, local fare” is quite the challenge.
Just an easy 61B ride away at 1100 South Braddock Ave. in Regent Square, Ease’s menu certainly runs the traditional gamut. Bone-in pork chops, caprese salads and BLTs all have a place on the menu. But the classics carry a twist, whether it’s the addition of a shellfish buffet to one of four mac and cheese options or Ease’s decision to carry only one burger, made with bison.
Just like the food tries to elevate the standard fare, Ease’s decor attempts to move customers’ environment beyond their parents’ dining rooms. Modern paintings hang against crisp white walls, with art deco-like ceiling tiles and streamlined circular light fixtures scattered around the room.
While pleasing to the eye, the interior did seem intimidating for what is supposed to be familiar fare. My dining partner and I worried we had wandered into a fancy brasserie not fit for mere college students. The arrival of a friendly waitress settled such concerns as she promptly topped off our water glasses.
While I had thought about ordering a drink, an $11 minimum for the cocktails felt a bit steep. The Mint Julep Sweet Tea — made of fresh brewed sweet tea, mint, simple syrup and, of course, bourbon — did sound tempting though. Our waitress was now stuck refilling our glasses every few minutes, which she did dutifully.
My accomplice and I planned on coming to Ease during lunch to catch its midday menu, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. There are two differences between the dinner and lunch menu — most of the lunch meals come between bread and are in the price range of $9 to $15. Dinner entrees, however, cost $15 to $28.
The menus do rhyme, though, which could almost make up for the cost. One of Ease’s most popular dishes, the meatloaf, is made of buffalo, veal and pork, then stuffed with smoked cheddar cheese and finished with an orange chipotle glaze. At dinner, it costs $21 for a full entree, but lunchgoers can snag a slice on a sandwich for $10. Also on the dinner menu, roasted chicken served on a plate, au jus, for $20. For lunch — and half the price — you can order a roasted chicken grilled cheese with apples and mustard.
Luckily, my friend and I were on time. Past the main courses, lunch and dinner are identical in appetizers and mac and cheese — which was, curiously, its own section. Inspired by the show of confidence, we decided to split three dishes — the Tater Tot & BBQ Pork Poutine, the aforementioned Meatloaf Sandwich, and the Original Mac N Cheese.
First came the poutine, literally served on a silver platter. It consisted of smoked cheddar, fresh mozzarella, pickled jalapenos, thick-cut bacon and green onion, with a light pour of sweet bourbon barbeque sauce.
The poutine was underwhelming. Usually made of fries, cheese curds, and then covered in gravy, Ease’s version felt overdone.
The tater tots were not as crispy as I had hoped, and seemed mostly to absorb grease rather than fry in it. I normally do not slather food in sauce, but the distinct kick of the bourbon really came through, making me wish for some more to replace the usual gravy in traditional poutine.
Meanwhile, the jalapenos added a fiery kick to cut through the natural fattiness of the tater tots, bacon and pork, but the spice could occasionally overwhelm in sudden jolts.
While the whole point of Ease is to riff on classic favorites with quality ingredients, it felt as if the parts were greater than the whole with this dish.
Luckily, our main courses did not disappoint. The meatloaf sandwich let the delicious loaf stand out, while perfectly supporting it with lettuce, fresh tomato and some fried onion straws. The bread, a house-made ciabatta roll, was expertly toasted, and never became soggy or wilted its support. The meatloaf seemed lean — although grease did splatter my plate as I took my first bite.
Every subsequent bite reminded me how juicy the unique combination of animals I was consuming. Even better was when the orange chipotle glaze shone through, bringing a subtle citrus sweetness.
The sandwich itself was served with house-cut french fries and a massive dill pickle. The fries were crisp and retained their starchy flavor, although the insides were occasionally dry.
The real star was the macaroni and cheese. Macaroni is a bit of a misnomer — Ease’s plate used cavatappi, a shell-like pasta, to help collect the sauce. Made of smoked cheddar, pepper jack and Havarti, the cheese sauce was silky smooth.
The smoked cheddar really came through, giving each bite a deep, rich and sometimes nutty flavor. The smoke was sometimes overwhelming, and a better balance between that and the pepper jack could improve the dish. But when a bite included the Parmesan crust, I was in true cheese heaven.
Overall, we left the meal feeling immensely satisfied and holding two full styrofoam containers filled with leftovers. Even for a lunch menu, the size of the meals was generous. At roughly $20 per person, to sample three separate dishes and leave with leftovers was a bargain.
For the hungry college student seeking a location for a cute date, to celebrate a new job or just splurge on some true liquid gold, Ease Modern Comfort Cuisine won’t disappoint.