Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

East Liberty Restaurateur Focused on Fresh, Not Fussy Food

Chef Sonja J Finn’s quality-first attitude translates to stellar menu selections at Dinette.




PHOTO BY HANNAH HARLEY
 

The open kitchen at Dinette, Sonja J Finn’s cozy East Liberty restaurant, radiates focused, energetic warmth. That energy is a reflection of Finn’s leadership philosophy, which she says is based on making the most streamlined and productive kitchen possible.

“I don’t think anyone should be yelling in a kitchen. But that also means you have to hire the right people. You have to have people who respect the customers, respect the process and respect the food,” says Finn, 36.
 
Her menu is a reflection of that culinary philosophy. Ingredients should be fresh, seasonal and not at all fussy. “I don’t want there to be a moment where people try to figure out what their food is,” she says.

Finn’s respect for people and food translates to the plate, where seasonal dishes such as srpska salata (Serbian summer salad of tomatoes, hot peppers, onions and feta) are a straightforward celebration of ingredients, and the simple beauty of a pizza crust is elevated by combinations such as the Pennsylvania sweet onion with sun gold tomatoes, Brie, rosemary, sage and fresh mozzarella.

Aside from the pastries, there aren’t hard-and-fast recipes for any of the dishes. This, Finn says, largely is because the subtleties of an ingredient’s flavor change through the year.

Finn opened Dinette in 2008, when old Pittsburgh stalwarts such as Le Pommier were on their last legs. Her leadership helped to pioneer the city’s transition from white-tablecloth dining to meals in comfortable spaces cooked by chefs who focus on quality of ingredient above anything else.

Early on, sourcing was a challenge for Finn, who after graduating in 2003 from the Culinary Institute of America developed her skills in Northern California restaurants. “I didn’t understand how food could be so far from the source that there would be a rotten potato in the sack. And then when we got our first order here, half of the onions were bad,” she says.

At times, she even had to bypass the traditional restaurant supply chain and get the best produce she could find wherever she could get it. “I decided I’d rather get my ingredients at Whole Foods than settle for bad produce,” she says.

Now Finn for the first time is about to move on to her next endeavor: running a restaurant inside the Carnegie Museums in Oakland. She used to take her son Miles to the museums every week, and as part of the experience, they’d have lunch in the café. “I’d sit there and think about how amazing the space is and if only I could have my food here. I could feel it in my bones that this was something that was meant to be,” she says.  

 

Ajvar

This traditional Serbian (my mother is from Serbia) roasted spicy red-pepper spread is a favorite of everyone in my family. Red Serbian peppers work best, but unless your father smuggled seeds into the United States 40 years ago, your best substitute is red banana peppers.

  • 4 pounds mild red banana peppers
  • 1 pound hot red banana peppers
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • salt

Directions: Grill peppers until skins start to blister. Put peppers into a bowl, wrap tight with plastic wrap and allow the peppers to steam for at least an hour. Remove skins, stems and seeds. (Wear disposable gloves.) Transfer peppers into a colander and toss with a little salt. Let peppers drain at least overnight in the fridge. Pulse peppers in food processor until chopped finely, but do not purée. In a large sauté pan, add oil and peppers. Continuously stir over medium heat to both evaporate some water and fully incorporate the peppers and oil (about eight minutes). Adjust salt to taste. Let cool before serving.

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Mobile Service To Connect Hungry Pitt Students to Free Food

PittGrub app will send folks in need to events with leftovers.

What's It Like When You Go from Laborer to Being The Boss?

Pitt's Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence has been teaching business strategies to startups and century-old companies for 25 years.

The 400-Word Review: The Equalizer 2

An unnecessary sequel to the Denzel Washington action flick arrives for a quick beat-em-up fix.

The 400-Word Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

The sequel to the 2008 ABBA musical is far from perfect, but might have enough charm to keep you on board.

You're Going to Be Upside Down a Lot on New Kennywood Coaster

Kennywood has revealed its replacement ride for “The Log Jammer” which will be located in a new portion of the park entitled “Steelers Country.”

Restaurant Review: Poulet Bleu

Richard DeShantz steps it up with a move from Downtown to Lawrenceville and shows Pittsburgh how to make French dining fun.

Pittsburgh to Host Nation’s First Black Beer Festival

Day Bracey and Ed Bailey of Drinking Partners Podcast and Mike Potter of Black Brew Culture online magazine will bring 12 black-owned breweries to Pittsburgh in August for Fresh Fest.

Coming Clean: Why We Aren't a Green City ... Yet

Pittsburgh is no longer a smoky city, but that doesn’t mean it has cleaned up its act. Pittsburgh's air quality still ranks among the worst in the nation. What steps are being taken to reduce Pittsburgh's ongoing dependence on fossil fuels?

Ultimate Comfort Food: The Joy of Dumplings

Why our dining critic thinks dumplings might be his ultimate comfort food.

Our Seven Favorite Dumplings in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, of course, is best known for the pierogi. Our love of dumplings extends beyond that, however. These seven dumplings are our favorite restaurant versions of their various styles.

The Tailor's Dumpling: Kreplach

A Pittsburgh chef and his family continue to craft a family recipe with roots in Poland.

The Pittsburgh Region's Top Dentists 2018

Our annual list, which contains 376 dentists across 11 specialties, as determined by topDENTISTS.

A Weekend Mission of Mercy in Pittsburgh

More than a thousand people come to PPG Paints Arena once a year for free dental care, thanks to an ambitious, all-volunteer effort.

Jump Into the River: Open Waters Beckons Strong Swimmers

It takes a strong swimmer and the right timing to dive into the three rivers. for those up to it, the difference between the pool and open water is profound.

Pirates Are Still a Long Way From a Hollywood Ending

Despite an 8-1 winning streak going into the All-Star break, the Bucs are in desperate need of a sequel, not only to win back some credibility with fans, but also to convince their owner not to sell off more pieces of the team.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Mobile Service To Connect Hungry Pitt Students to Free Food

Mobile Service To Connect Hungry Pitt Students to Free Food

PittGrub app will send folks in need to events with leftovers.

Comments

You're Going to Be Upside Down a Lot on New Kennywood Coaster

You're Going to Be Upside Down a Lot on New Kennywood Coaster

Kennywood has revealed its replacement ride for “The Log Jammer” which will be located in a new portion of the park entitled “Steelers Country.”

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Pittsburgh to Host Nation’s First Black Beer Festival

Pittsburgh to Host Nation’s First Black Beer Festival

Day Bracey and Ed Bailey of Drinking Partners Podcast and Mike Potter of Black Brew Culture online magazine will bring 12 black-owned breweries to Pittsburgh in August for Fresh Fest.

Comments

A Pop-Up Bar in Pittsburgh that Serves a Sober Alternative

A Pop-Up Bar in Pittsburgh that Serves a Sober Alternative

Empath provides the vibe and social space of a bar, as well as stepped up beverage service ... without the alcohol.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

Our dining critic picks his favorite ice cream, ice pop, frozen custard, vegan delight and more.

Comments

Six Underrated Kennywood Rides You Need to Try Again

Six Underrated Kennywood Rides You Need to Try Again

Leave enough time in your next visit to Kennywood to revisit some old favorites and these underrated gems.

Comments


National Aviary's New Renovations Make it Essential Pittsburgh

National Aviary's New Renovations Make it Essential Pittsburgh

It's time to add the National Aviary to the list of local favorites you visit again and again.

Comments

Stop Using Uber and Lyft, Renting a Bike is Better

Stop Using Uber and Lyft, Renting a Bike is Better

You'll save money and have an easier time hopping between neighborhoods on a Healthy Ride bicycle.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates Are Still a Long Way From a Hollywood Ending

Pirates Are Still a Long Way From a Hollywood Ending

Despite an 8-1 winning streak going into the All-Star break, the Bucs are in desperate need of a sequel, not only to win back some credibility with fans, but also to convince their owner not to sell off more pieces of the team.

Comments

Compelling World Cup Worth a Periodic Embrace

Compelling World Cup Worth a Periodic Embrace

The competition is as fierce as the fans are passionate and both can be appreciated without a firm grasp of the details.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: The Equalizer 2

The 400-Word Review: The Equalizer 2

An unnecessary sequel to the Denzel Washington action flick arrives for a quick beat-em-up fix.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

The 400-Word Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

The sequel to the 2008 ABBA musical is far from perfect, but might have enough charm to keep you on board.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Perfect Proposals that Flashed Back to First Dates

Perfect Proposals that Flashed Back to First Dates

Return to your roots before your relationship blooms into a beautiful marriage.

Comments

I Do, Now Let’s Have Some BBQ

I Do, Now Let’s Have Some BBQ

A five-course meal doesn’t fit with every wedding. These laid-back couples opted for casual — and delicious — cuisine perfect for their outdoor and barn receptions.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Wow Factor: Empty Nest Inspires Timeless Makeover

Wow Factor: Empty Nest Inspires Timeless Makeover

When her last child graduated from college, Ingrid Meenen did something she had been wanting to do for 20 years — renovate the first floor of her Upper St. Clair home.

Comments

Head to the North Hills for Two Blooming Garden Tours

Head to the North Hills for Two Blooming Garden Tours

The Wexford Garden and Pond Tour and the Southern Butler County Garden Club tour both take place this weekend.

Comments