Recently, while biting into a forearm-sized sandwich and dreaming of Sun Gold Tomato Gazpacho, I got to thinking: Just how far would I travel to slake a craving?
As a kid, I would scale the crevice of a creek in our backyard, trek through the woods, climb over a metal gate, race past a pair of mean chihuahuas, then drift down a dusty dirt road, and cross a busy highway to arrive at (cue the trumpets) the 7-Eleven! There, I’d squander my allowance on a Southern summer staple: ice cold co-colas with a pack of salty peanuts dumped right in.
My sister recently shared that she and her husband frequently drive three hours to their favorite barbecue joint. And my cousin once flew to Trinidad just to eat rotis.
I merely had to endure Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel traffic and a stretch of I-64 to arrive at Toano and the FoodaTude food truck. It’s where Jim Kennedy, one of Virginia’s most inventive and overlooked chefs, dishes a mind-blowing, ever-changing menu. Think duck confit tacos, fresh bagels, wood-fired clam pizzas, pastrami poutine, or house-made goat cheese ice cream with a blackberry-habanero swirl.
“I don’t know how some chefs do the same thing day in and day out for years,” Jim said while standing under his saffron tent and pressing a pillow of dough into a 12-inch circle. “I’m having fun with it, still trying new things.”
I first met Jim, a former Navy corpsman, at Dudley’s Farmhouse Grill, a restaurant he named in memory of his silver dapple Dachshund. Before that, he owned a scratch pizza parlor and a deli in Williamsburg.
Dudley’s was truly a best kept secret and a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement. In an old farmhouse in Toano, he tended a tidy cook’s garden and hosted wild game wine-pairing dinners—think elk, bison, and boar. Later, he opened Dudley’s Bistro in Williamsburg’s New Town and served up striper BLTs, black-eyed pea cassoulet topped with duck, and his signature Sun Gold Tomato Gazpacho, a cool, sunshiny puree with a greenish curlicue of olive oil on top, all of which might show up on FoodaTude’s menu.
Seven years ago, Jim closed the bistro and bought a food truck, had FoodaTude painted on the side, and took his boundless culinary creativity on the road. He won’t brave the HRBT, which means that South Hampton Roads epicures must make a road trip, but it’s well worth the miles.
The sandwich I was holding, one of six on the menu that day, was itself worth the travels.
That’s because Jim curates his pantry with the care of a fine arts museum custodian. He sources cheeses from Italy and the best domestic caves. He scours farmers markets for the freshest seasonal produce. He grinds his own sausage and cures his own bacon (including the apple-cinnamon, which he piles onto house-made bagel breakfast sammies.) Even King Arthur’s flour doesn’t make Kennedy’s cut. He recently switched to an Italian import—more expensive but worth the tweak in flavor.
Jim handed over my enormous “Bella” sandwich ($16) built on a soft sub roll that he baked just that morning. Three kinds of Italian cold cuts flopped out the side: slightly spicy coppa piccante, lean and salty coppicola, and Genoa salami with just the right amount of fat. Three slices of fresh mozzarella, each nearly an inch thick, peeked from between the folds of meat nicely tempering the saltiness. A schmear of artichoke tapenade and some cherry peppers made it more memorable than any sub I’ve eaten.
Other menu items that day included jumbo bourbon-maple wings, crab fritters, fried oysters, and 11 kinds of Dizzy Izzy’s pizzas, named for his daughter Isabella and cooked in his portable wood-fired pizza oven.
Despite being sated by the sub, which I had shared with a friend, I couldn’t resist Jim’s proffer of a pizza pie. The Hawaiian and veal-pork-beef meatball pies tempted, but I opted for the Dizzy Izzy, $16, which came hot from the oven. The slightly crunchy crust had a whisper of smoke flavor. It worked well with the generous scattering of house hot sausage, slabs of milky mozzarella, and shards of red pepper and red onion.
While some of Jim’s offerings may be too gourmet for children, he always offers burgers, hot dogs, and chicken tenders for those tender palates.
FoodaTude: Food with Attitude food truck - For schedules and menus, go to FoodaTude.biz or find FoodaTude on Facebook. Bagel sandwiches: $7-$9; Pizza: $12-$22; Sandwiches: $14-$16; Kid’s fare: $6-$12.