The night before, I had ordered takeout from the Butler Street eatery, and Hilty was calling to get direct feedback, asking if menu items traveled well and how pieces of certain dishes — identified as typical problem areas — came out.
I was impressed. In a year when takeout had become the norm, this was the first time someone from a restaurant had called to follow-up on a meal, rather than settling for the accepted drawbacks that come with to-go dining.
In a pre-pandemic world, The Vandal offered a little bit of everything. During the day, it functioned as a casual brunch spot and coffee shop; on previous visits, I walked away from the counter-service bar with an almost too-pretty-to-drink floral latte (garnished with actual flowers). At night, the cozy eatery blurs the lines between dining styles, providing high-end dishes in a minimalistic, more formal, modern atmosphere.
Mixing styles has worked out quite well for The Vandal, which has kept doing a little bit of everything — though pared down — throughout the pandemic.
The current brunch menu, a sandwich list called “Wish You Were Here,” is divided by cities, featuring a Pittsburgh breakfast — a potato roll, hot sausage patty, and egg — and a New York breakfast — an everything bagel — among others.
For dinner, there’s some expected pieces of an American restaurant — garlic bread, confit chicken wings, and a burger — along with pork schnitzel, lamb dumplings, and a unique take on a classic European fish and chips with shrimp, scallops, and cod.
I chose to go à la carte (online-only dinner packages, composed of an entree and two small plates, were also available) making a spread out of two entrees (short rib and The Vandal burger), an order of lamb dumplings, and a Pimm’s cup cocktail.
The Pimm’s cup was exactly as I hoped, full of fresh cucumber and herbal flavors. A splash of ginger beer made it slightly more winter-appropriate, the lingering spice adding a touch of warmth to the refreshing drink. I wasn’t sold on the lamb dumplings, the spiced meat wrapped in a dough that was tough and over-steamed. The blend of spices, though tasty, masked the flavor of the lamb. A very herb-forward yogurt sauce brightened the hearty bites, though it wasn’t quite enough to bring the dumplings together.
Short rib, or osso buco, isn’t something that I’d normally think of for takeout, but even eaten from a paper container, The Vandal did it justice. (This can be said for all dishes. Even after trekking them to my car in the cold and back to my house, they were still warm.) A side of saffron risotto gave a sweet, floral lift to the rich, tender-as-can-be meat, though the rice was a touch underdone. A dusting of crispy shallots added a nice texture, gremolata finishing the lush dish off with a bit of zing.
But the burger stole the show. Gruyere, a pile of caramelized onions, and a tomato hollandaise sauce topped off the perfectly pink patty, squished between a buttery, crispy-edged bun. The sweetness of the onions played well with the sharp slice of cheese, rounded out by the creamy, slightly-acidic sauce. No burger would be complete without fries, and the twice-fried version from The Vandal was top-notch.
In some restaurants, doing a little bit of everything becomes an overwhelming, 27-page menu filled with half-thought-out dishes. But The Vandal is doing it right, using small, thoughtful menus to bring interesting touches to classic eats, without losing flavor.
The Vandal. 4306 Butler St., Lawrenceville. thevandalpgh.com