Up on the Rooftop

Dinette brings a taste of homegrown (rooftop-grown, to be exact) summertime produce to the table.




Gardeners can practically taste the following phrases: Basil. Arugula. Sun-ripened tomato. And now diners at Dinette can, too, thanks to Sonja Finn, chef/owner. The two-time James Beard “Rising Star Chef of the Year” semi-finalist came up with a practical solution for snagging urban garden space in her small corner of bustling East Liberty: A rooftop garden. 

"At Dinette, since our menu is ingredient-driven, it’s important that we get the best-quality ingredients,” says Sonja. “That’s what’s important about this garden. It’s just such better quality than what we can get, what we can buy.”       

Although Dinette works with Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance to receive top-quality, locally sourced ingredients, Sonja says her rooftop garden will help to “fill in the gaps.”
 

Dinette rooftop garden

Photo by Kaitlyn Johnston

Dinette's rooftop garden overlooks the hustle and bustle of East Liberty.

When Dinette opened in summer 2008, Sonja’s father, Seth Finn, an avid gardener for 35 years, recognized the rooftop as a hidden gem because of the “unobstructed sunshine,”—a key element somewhat lacking in his garden on the deck of his condominium in Shadyside.

Earlier this year, Sonja began to take an interest in the quality and flavor of her father’s homegrown ingredients. Seth responded by offering to set up a garden on the roof of Dinette. And that’s exactly what happened.

Seth, who retired from Robert Morris University in March, planted arugula, tomatoes, peppers, lemon cucumbers and three varieties of basil in addition to other herbs in plastic containers. Each plastic container rests on top of another to create a reservoir for maintaining moisture levels, says Seth, adding that maintaining moisture levels is a typical problem in container gardening. The grid-like garden spans two rows of herbs and two double-length rows of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. But the highlight is the self-timed watering system, designed and constructed by Seth. The herbs are set for twice daily for a total of a half-gallon of water each. The tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are set to a different timing system, which provides them with a gallon of water each day.

“By laying out irrigation and then smaller, quarter-inch feeder hoses, you can water each of the containers and make sure that the reservoir level is sufficient,” says Seth. “It’s a very efficient and safe way to grow tomatoes.”

The result? Dinette has stopped purchasing basil from any other outlet, and the restaurant is using so much arugula that it must be replanted.

“The only good tomato is a home-grown tomato,” says Seth.

Diners can expect tomato-based dishes—when the tomatoes ripen in a couple of weeks—including Srpska Salata, one of Sonja’s favorites. Dinette’s version is served on grilled bread and topped grilled peppers, onions, olive oil, feta cheese and, of course, tomatoes.

“It’s exciting,” says Sonja. “When the ingredients are good, you kind of have to come up with things on the spot. That’s the point of good ingredients.”


For more on Dinette, visit dinette-pgh.com.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Bucket List: 25 Don't-Miss Experiences for the Yinzer in All of Us

Bucket List: 25 Don't-Miss Experiences for the Yinzer in All of Us

You'll have to work hard to make it through the 'Burgh Bucket List — but every entry is more than worth the effort.
Finally Home: How Pittsburgh Won Over Troy Polamalu

Finally Home: How Pittsburgh Won Over Troy Polamalu

Troy Polamalu came to Pittsburgh craving the California sun. Nearly a dozen years later, he shares a rare glimpse of the relationships he developed here — with his God, the Steelers Nation and the city he and his family now call home. One thing is certain: he never wants to leave.
Granting the Perfect Wish

Granting the Perfect Wish

By fulfilling the wish of a 12-year-old boy, PittGirl learns that you don't always need a lot of money to grant the perfect wish.
Men's Winter Fashion: Season for Swagger

Men's Winter Fashion: Season for Swagger

Try an updated take on traditional trends with these winter must-haves for men.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Two Cameras to Keep an Eye on Pittsburgh’s Bald Eagles

Two Cameras to Keep an Eye on Pittsburgh’s Bald Eagles

A Murrysville security company plans to install the new cameras, which should provide high-definition of the Hays eagles.
Pittsburgh Offers Free Holiday Parking

Pittsburgh Offers Free Holiday Parking

The city hopes that offering free parking to shoppers on some of the busiest commercial days of the year will give small businesses a lift.
Photo Gallery: Andy Warhol Bridge Yarn Bombing Wins Public Art Award

Photo Gallery: Andy Warhol Bridge Yarn Bombing Wins Public Art Award

The bridge was covered in more than 3,000 feet of colorful, hand-knit blankets in honor of the late pop artist’s 85th birthday.
Pittsburgh-Area Native Advances to Next Round on ‘The Voice’

Pittsburgh-Area Native Advances to Next Round on ‘The Voice’

Chris Jamison, 20, of Ross Township, is a 2012 graduate of North Hills High School.
Edit Module
Advertisement