ChefDriven food truck

$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

ChefDriven food truck
By Tim Carman
Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Some vendors get into the mobile food business just to earn enough bank to move into the big leagues, otherwise known as the bricks-and-mortar restaurant community. Jerry Trice has taken the opposite path.

The former executive chef at Yin Yankee in Annapolis (and its sneeze-and-you-missed-it sister operation in Bethesda) has kissed the full-service restaurant world goodbye. In April, he rolled out his more streamlined approach to feeding the public: ChefDriven, a former U.S. Postal Service vehicle retrofitted with a deep-fryer, a gas grill, burners and a panini press. Trice sounds quite happy to leave the world of perpetually cash-strapped restaurant owners and countless lost weekends (the work-intensive, not the alcohol-fueled, kind) in the rearview mirror of his canary yellow truck.

Trice has found a way to channel his considerable talents into the concise menus of ChefDriven and, more to the point, he has brought a market-driven, season-oriented approach to a street-food community that’s often dedicated to a single, set concept, no matter what month it is. Trice, 43, is now a restaurant chef in a tin can.

His menus change weekly, as do his influences. One week, ChefDriven may channel the ­bayou with a shellfish-heavy gumbo ($7); another week, it may act like a rolling Parisian bistro with steak frites ($13). What this means, of course, is that whatever dishes I mention could be history by your visit.

That fact alone should be enough to cause a great gnashing of teeth, particularly whenever Trice decides to ditch his cornmeal-crusted oyster tacos ($12) with green goddess sauce, which adds a note of rich, licorice ­piquancy to the deep-fried Maryland bivalves. The balance of the dish -- hot, cool, crunchy, pillowy, earthy -- is so wondrously architectural that you want to fall to your knees and beg Trice to bend his own seasonal rules and keep the tacos on permanently.

But Trice has other ideas: a panino with caponata and goat cheese ($8), a tart, slightly spicy focaccia-based sandwich that’s pressed to an exquisite crunch; or his Brazilian tomato soup ($5) with coconut milk, rice and cilantro, a luxuriant liquid that startles you with bursts of heat and tiny pieces of tomato that give your teeth something to worry over. His carrot-ginger soup ($6) is even better, a silken puree that conceals a few naval mines of roasted grape tomatoes that explode with tart juice.

And yet the thing I probably appreciate most about ChefDriven is its improv skills. One late afternoon, Trice had exhausted most of his menu but still whipped me up a plate of leftover skewers from a Thai salad. He sprinkled the beef with scallions and suggested I add a few shakes of fish sauce and Sriracha. I wolfed them down like a hungry dog, thankful that Jerry Trice is chef enough to know that sometimes half a dish is good enough.