Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hungry for Something Good, Pittsburgh? Where We're Eating in December.

We're celebrating a decade of Dinette, tempted by hot pitas at Pitaland and digging the (not so) secret sauce at Salem's Market & Grill.




photos by erin kelly
 

A Decade of Dinette
When chef/owner Sonja J Finn opened Dinette in 2008, Pittsburgh’s restaurant landscape was strikingly different. Potatoes and onions were the only options for local-in-winter ingredients and regionally grown asparagus was hard to come by in the springtime. “Small plates” weren’t a thing, and most Pittsburgh diners weren’t yet looking beyond the traditional. “I was putting farro in salad, and people were like, ‘Why are you serving me oats?’ and ‘This woman is just putting peppers and cheese on a plate,’” was some of the feedback Finn says she received early on.

Finn moved the needle with her East Liberty restaurant. With a slow, patient arc (and a rooftop garden) the chef helped introduce the city to sharable, chef-driven cuisine in a casual environment. She was the first woman solo chef-owner in Pittsburgh’s modern era and, she believes, was the first restaurant in town with an open kitchen. “The point of Dinette was to say a restaurant could be done in a better way. One that supports its workers and its community and has a positive impact. There were a lot of naysayers, but now you can’t say it doesn’t work,” Finn says.

Finn also is a leader in workplace dignity. She runs a kitchen where positive feedback trumps the brigade system, pays her employees a living wage and provides healthcare, and serves as a mentor to others. The list of Pittsburgh culinary professionals who passed through Dinette is a strong one and includes Becca Hegarty (Bitter Ends Garden & Luncheonette), Jamilka Borges (Independent Brewing Co., Hidden Harbor, Lorelei), Jeanette Harris (Gluten Free Goat), Jeff Ryan and Matt Watson (Pizza Boat), Robert Stockard (Pear and the Pickle) and Yelena Barnhouse (Lola Bistro). “Dinette is not just this singular entity. The entrepreneurial spirit runs deep,” she says.

Ten years in, the basic format is the same, yet the quality of ingredients and attention-to-detail always improves. On a recent Saturday night, the dining room was packed at 9 p.m., with diners enjoying dishes such as grilled hakurei turnips and radishes with lemon vinaigrette, red quinoa salad with roasted Nantes carrots, medjool dates, scallions, arugula and coriander vinaigrette, plus pizzas topped with intelligently curated combinations of ingredients; the Crispin apple with peppered bacon, red onion, rooftop-grown rosemary, gorgonzola and fresh mozzarella was a standout.

Finn says the future holds new challenges — primarily competition from easy-eating options such as delivery services such as Postmates and DoorDash, as well as ever-expanding fast-casual and counter-service concepts. “I think what I’d like to prove now is that this type of restaurant is still needed. Human interaction is still needed. If it’s a good restaurant, with purpose, that’s what survives.”

5996 Centre Ave., East Liberty; 412/362-0202, dinette-pgh.com
 


 

Pitaland
If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the oven at Pitaland in action, its conveyor belt a parade of thousands of freshly baked pita puffed with hot air and flush with the temptation of gluttony. George Chahine opened the Brookline bakery in 1969. The current owners, Joe and Jocelyne Chahine, natives of Lebanon who sought asylum in the United States, joined the business in 1974 and bought it from George (Joe’s brother) in the 1980s; they remodeled the store in 2013. In addition to picking up bags of the freshly baked pita, I recommend visiting the establishment for its café menu (especially the rosemary-and-garlic-kissed lamb burger) as well as the small grocery, which has bulk selections of bulger, beans, lentil and other pulses, jars of pickled items such as turnips, eggplant and mango, and a selection of Syrian, Armenian, Bulgarian and other specialty cheeses.
620 Brookline Blvd., Brookline; 412/531-5040, pitaland.com
 


 

Salem’s Market and Grill
I don’t know what took me so long to dip my kufta kebabs and shish tawook skewers in the garlic sauce at Salem’s Market and Grill. The halal restaurant long has been one of my go-to destinations. I love the tasty and affordable hot-bar sections, particularly the lamb and goat curries; I find comfort in the naan, fresh and airy from the tandoor; and Salem’s spirit of radical inclusivity is something we could use a lot more of during a turbulent moment in history. Now, I add a lacing of the sauce, pungent garlic tamed by creamy mayonnaise, to nearly everything I order from the grill and crave meals from the establishment even more than I did in the past.
2923 Penn Ave., Strip District; 412/235-7828, salemsmarketgrill.com



 

Sonja J Finn
Chef | Owner

Do you cook at home? What do you like to cook? 

I do. I just finally, nine years into owning my home, redid the kitchen. People think that I’m focused on pizza because of the restaurant, but I’m a chef. In the summer, for example, I’m using ingredients from the garden with good olive oil and fresh herbs. It’s kind of funny, but I’m also queen of the pasta bake. Chicken pasta bake, eggplant pasta bake. It’s one of those things that makes everybody happy at home. You can make it in bulk and freeze it, which is great as a working parent.

Favorite spot for a before or after work meal or drink? 
Our family tradition is Chaya. We end up there a lot. Udipi is another place we always try to make it to. I know this might be self-promoting, but I can’t tell you how much pleasure I have eating at the Cafe Carnegie (where Finn is the consulting chef). That’s where I’m going with [my son] Miles.

What Pittsburgh restaurant would you work at for a day or two?
I never think about another job (laughs). But I’d say I’d love to go over to Five Points and make baguettes with them. I’d head over to the Golden Pig because I feel like her (owner/cook Yong Kwon) butchery skills with chicken are so impressive.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

Your 10 best bets for this month include WizardVue, rooftop yoga and Spamilton.

The Summer Movies in the Park Are Awesome This Year

The City of Pittsburgh's annual Cinema in the Park series returns with another summer of free outdoor movies for all.

7 Storylines Which Will Define and Determine Steelers' Season

An unfamiliar underdog status may help the Steelers get back to the playoffs and beyond.

Can't Miss Concerts in Pittsburgh in June

This month's lineup includes Ariana Grande, Hiss Golden Messenger and a full slate at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

June 2019: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

Check out some of the finest plays, dance performances and exhibits taking place this month in Pittsburgh.

Joe Morrison Takes the Director's Chair at Pittsburgh Filmmakers

After years of uncertainty, the cinemas of Pittsburgh Filmmakers now have a leader with experience building and engaging audiences.

Unlock Special View of Pittsburgh for a Limited Time

Attention all boaters! The locks on the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers will open most summer weekends, allowing you to visit sights you couldn’t get to before.

Get To Liberty Magic to See the Excellent Billy Kidd

The British magician's new show, "Bridging the Gap," brings theatricality and surprising performance to the parlour-magic stage.

The 400-Word Review: The Perfection

Netflix's troubling new thriller stars Allison Williams and Logan Browning.

Undercover: What We're Reading in June

Reviews of “I”: New and Selected Poems by Toi Derricotte and Regular Hauntings: New and Previous Poems by Gerald Costanzo.

What Are You Doing to be Like Mister Rogers on 1-4-3 Day?

Pennsylvania names May 23 as 1-4-3 Day to celebrate its favorite neighbor.

The 400-Word Review: Aladdin

Disney's live-action remake of the '90s hit stars Will Smith as the iconic Genie.

Sharing Knives Grows into Sharing Farms

For its third season, the collaborative dinner series at Ace Hotel will celebrate the region’s growers.

A Slice of Pizza Kept Sean McDowell Going in the Early Days

After 41 years in the business, the legendary rock DJ on WDVE has announced his retirement.

This New App Will Help You Track Upcoming Cicada Swarm

Follow Brood VIII, which is expected to have three species of periodical cicadas emerging from the soil as early as this month, on the Cicada Safari App.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


The Summer Movies in the Park Are Awesome This Year

The Summer Movies in the Park Are Awesome This Year

The City of Pittsburgh's annual Cinema in the Park series returns with another summer of free outdoor movies for all.

Comments

Unlock Special View of Pittsburgh for a Limited Time

Unlock Special View of Pittsburgh for a Limited Time

Attention all boaters! The locks on the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers will open most summer weekends, allowing you to visit sights you couldn’t get to before.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Sharing Knives Grows into Sharing Farms

Sharing Knives Grows into Sharing Farms

For its third season, the collaborative dinner series at Ace Hotel will celebrate the region’s growers.

Comments

A Look at the Latest Restaurant Openings in Pittsburgh

A Look at the Latest Restaurant Openings in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh says hello (again) to Dish Osteria, Cinderlands Warehouse, Pizzeria Davide and more.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

For those who can’t stand the idea of leaving their dogs home alone on a beautiful day, these dog-friendly stores, restaurants and bars in the Pittsburgh area welcome humans and canines alike.

Comments

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

Even novice runners can work their way up to these fun and (mildly) challenging races.

Comments


Get To Liberty Magic to See the Excellent Billy Kidd

Get To Liberty Magic to See the Excellent Billy Kidd

The British magician's new show, "Bridging the Gap," brings theatricality and surprising performance to the parlour-magic stage.

Comments

The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls is a Treasure

The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls is a Treasure

The small, second venue above the Millvale hall is one of the city's best rooms for live music.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
7 Storylines Which Will Define and Determine Steelers' Season

7 Storylines Which Will Define and Determine Steelers' Season

An unfamiliar underdog status may help the Steelers get back to the playoffs and beyond.

Comments

Pirates’ First Quarter Record Defies Logic if Not Description

Pirates’ First Quarter Record Defies Logic if Not Description

The 21-19 record the Bucs took to San Diego doesn’t add up given all they’ve had to overcome. Perhaps there’s more to this team than meets the eye.

Comments


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

The 400-Word Review: The Perfection

Netflix's troubling new thriller stars Allison Williams and Logan Browning.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Aladdin

The 400-Word Review: Aladdin

Disney's live-action remake of the '90s hit stars Will Smith as the iconic Genie.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
This Wedding Had a Guest List Unlike Any Other

This Wedding Had a Guest List Unlike Any Other

Brendan Renne and Thais Canedo wanted a penguin at their wedding. They ended up with a menagerie.

Comments

You’ll #ShalieveInLove After Seeing Ryan Shazier's Wedding Photos

You’ll #ShalieveInLove After Seeing Ryan Shazier's Wedding Photos

Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Shazier danced at his wedding Friday 18 months after a serious spinal injury.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
New Tour Gives Insider Look at Pittsburgh’s Ethnic Neighborhoods

New Tour Gives Insider Look at Pittsburgh’s Ethnic Neighborhoods

With stops in Bloomfield and Polish Hill, the event from DOORS OPEN Pittsburgh celebrates the contributions immigrants made when they settled here more than a century ago.

Comments

Three North Side Garden Tours (And One on the South Side) You'll Want to Explore

Three North Side Garden Tours (And One on the South Side) You'll Want to Explore

Here’s your chance to explore some the city’s most beautiful historic (and new) homes and outdoor spaces.

Comments