Edible Ink: The Vandal's Csilla Thackray & Joey Hilty
Open the sturdy wooden door to The Vandal and let the wave of tranquility wash over you. An abundance of natural light brightens the intimate space, contained by white walls bedecked with worn brick or perfectly imperfect indents for extra character. Each table holds a small vase of bright flowers and serves as a quaint host to lengthy conversations over a lazy, eggy brunch or quiet moments of clarity between sips of espresso.
“The space is so clean and beautiful that it lends a hand to using clean and beautiful [ingredients] you can get in Western PA,” says Csilla Thackray, executive chef. “To me, it’s about continuing on that path.”
The path leads to The Vandal’s goal of reimagining what people experience in a causal dining setting, as owner Joey Hilty puts it. “Getting people accessibility to new eating experiences without having to do the whole white tablecloth thing.”
Pushing their limits at a mindful pace, the team found its footing and evolved substantially in its first year. “We started small with a very limited menu,” Thackray explains. “And then it was, ‘OK, I think my limit is one iota bigger.’ And then, ‘Maybe it’s one iota bigger than that.’ We started casual and that environment is still here and that baseline mentality is still here, but it’s about growing into our own.”
The Vandal’s already grown its repertoire to include an extensive lineup of breakfast, lunch, brunch, and dinner items. And as they continue striving to please their toughest critics — themselves — they rely on a strong work ethic and support from Pittsburgh’s finest, including purveyors who provide the local, seasonal ingredients for each dish; the artists who handmade all of the restaurant’s ceramic cups and mugs; and Emily Slagel, the owner of Joan Shop and Studio, who designed the interior.
The dependence on locality speaks to another beloved art for Hilty and Thackray: their tattoos. Artists at Torch & Dagger, Black Cat Tattoos, and Armature Tattoo Co. created some of the beautiful works they both sport today. The fusion of both creative industries represents major aspects of Thackray and Hilty’s lives, as well as a unique, blended culture they’re happy to be a part of. “The tattoo community is very supportive of the food community,” Hilty says. “Everyone’s definitely taking care of one another.”
HIM: Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. My parents told me I could get a tattoo if it was a religious one, so I did. I was 18.
HER: Mine was a dove on my foot when I was 15, and I regret it every day. I hate it.
HIM: Both of my hands are new. I got this Medusa head from Kati [Zmenkowski of Armature Tattoo Co.] I haven’t finished it. [I also got] a wolf, which is loosely tied to The Vandal’s imagery, our secondary logo. And I got this right down the street at Torch & Dagger.
HER: I think it was the cat, which was a couple years back. It’s an Andy Warhol painting. There’s a period before some of his more famous pop art where he was doing more watercolor-esque sketches. He had a whole series of cats, and I’m just a crazy cat lady. So, there’s not a whole lot of meaning, other than I like cats and Andy Warhol made nice paintings.
“I got both of them once we opened this up because then I knew it didn’t matter,” Hilty says. “It might inspire me to keep working harder so I never have to go back out in the regular job market.”
The phrase “Make a Face” is an homage to her grandmother, the queen of making funny faces and the one who always got Thackray in on the fun, too, by saying, “Make a face, Csilla Marie.”
“What’s cool is when I went to [Cara Cable at Black Cat Tattoos], I was like let’s just do the outline,” Thackray says. “All of Warhol’s paintings have a watercolor that kind of goes out of the lines. She was like what if we threw an opaque-esque thing over it. And I’m glad she suggested it because it looks great. It’s definitely my favorite tattoo.”