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

PM on KD: The Turkey Devonshire

PM Associate Editor and dining critic Hal B. Klein appeared on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live to discuss his new sandwich obsession, the Turkey Devonshire, and how it ended up on our February cover.

You Try It, Being a Meteorologist In Pittsburgh Isn't Easy

Aside from a Steelers loss, nothing seems to fire up Pittsburghers more than a blown weather forecast.

Our 50 Years: Why I Hate Nostalgia

Enjoying memories is fun – but a far cry from pining for the past.

Perspectives: Finding Grace in #MomLife

A Pittsburgh television reporter learns to embrace the imperfection that comes with being a working mom.

The 400-Word Review: Pledge

IFC Midnight's collegiate terror tale is mostly for genre fans, but it lands a few decent punches.

Capel’s Basketball Resurrection Has the Zoo Rocking Again

Head coach Jeff Capel is restoring respectability and re-establishing the relationship between Pitt’s students and Pitt’s student athletes.

Why Did No One Tell Me Cirque du Soleil is Awesome

A skeptical novice takes in the troupe's "Corteo" production and is stunned at his own delight.

Three Rivers Champion: Julius Boatwright

Boatwright works to connect everyone who needs it with mental health support.

Turkey Devonshire: Reviving a Classic Pittsburgh Sandwich

The once-famous sandwich originated here but now is largely forgotten. We dive into its history and argue that it's time for a revival.

Navigating the Future of Public Transit in Pittsburgh

Six Pittsburghers share their struggles and hopes for the region’s public transit system.

Why Jamison Farm Is a “A Napa Valley for Sheep”

How a former coal miner and his wife use the resources atop rolling Westmoreland County hills to produce the best lamb in the United States.

Pittsburgh Restaurant Review: Fish nor Fowl

The sixth standalone concept from the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group, is DeShantz’s most exciting restaurant yet.

Our 50 Years: When We Tried to Predict the Future

25 years ago, we predicted what the Pittsburgh of 2019 would look like. We were ... close?

Help Pay Tribute to a Pittsburgh Jazz Legend

Mary Lou Williams began as a teenage piano prodigy in the Hill District and made it to Carnegie Hall and beyond. This month, you can discover her musical legacy.

Their's was a Starry-Eyed Pittsburgh Romance

John Brashear dedicated his life to science — and his wife, Phoebe.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


You Try It, Being a Meteorologist In Pittsburgh Isn't Easy

You Try It, Being a Meteorologist In Pittsburgh Isn't Easy

Aside from a Steelers loss, nothing seems to fire up Pittsburghers more than a blown weather forecast.

Comments

Our 50 Years: Why I Hate Nostalgia

Our 50 Years: Why I Hate Nostalgia

Enjoying memories is fun – but a far cry from pining for the past.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Fresh Fest Beerfest Is Set to Return to Pittsburgh

Fresh Fest Beerfest Is Set to Return to Pittsburgh

The country's first black brewfest looks to double in size this year.

Comments

Pittsburgh Chef Moves: Csilla Thackray Headed to Legume Bistro

Pittsburgh Chef Moves: Csilla Thackray Headed to Legume Bistro

Thackray's departure from The Vandal will result in a new menu at that Lawrenceville restaurant.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Don’t resign yourself to the gym treadmills just yet – fall is one of the best times of the year to get outside and pound the pavement, surrounded by falling leaves and the possibility of grabbing a hot latte on the way home.

Comments

Love Sourdough? Find the Best There Is at These Five Bake Shops

Love Sourdough? Find the Best There Is at These Five Bake Shops

We dove into the local artisan bread scene to find the best places that bake naturally leavened bread in Pittsburgh.

Comments


Why Did No One Tell Me Cirque du Soleil is Awesome

Why Did No One Tell Me Cirque du Soleil is Awesome

A skeptical novice takes in the troupe's "Corteo" production and is stunned at his own delight.

Comments

My New Neighborhood Bar is The Birmingham Bridge Tavern

My New Neighborhood Bar is The Birmingham Bridge Tavern

After settling into a new neighborhood, PM nightlife editor Sean Collier sings the praises of his go-to corner bar.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Capel’s Basketball Resurrection Has the Zoo Rocking Again

Capel’s Basketball Resurrection Has the Zoo Rocking Again

Head coach Jeff Capel is restoring respectability and re-establishing the relationship between Pitt’s students and Pitt’s student athletes.

Comments

Steelers' Organization Shares Blame for Brown Debacle

Steelers' Organization Shares Blame for Brown Debacle

For years now, the Steelers have been working around Brown’s maladaptive tendencies from Monday through Saturday and throwing him the ball on Sunday and hoping for the best.

Comments


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

The 400-Word Review: Pledge

IFC Midnight's collegiate terror tale is mostly for genre fans, but it lands a few decent punches.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Glass

The 400-Word Review: Glass

M. Night Shyamalan's crossover film lands with a splat, as the filmmaker once again can't resist his worst impulses.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Pop Culture Touches Made These Weddings Extra Special

Pop Culture Touches Made These Weddings Extra Special

Whether you love all things Disney, “Game of Thrones” or “Star Wars,” there are lots of ways to add some personal — and fun — details into your wedding day.

Comments

It’s a Hockey Wedding in Pittsburgh

It’s a Hockey Wedding in Pittsburgh

This Pittsburgh couple was brought together by their love of hockey — and what better way to celebrate their New Year’s Eve wedding than with an outdoor game?

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Up for Auction: Luxury 200-Acre Ligonier Estate Owned by Former EDMC Exec

Up for Auction: Luxury 200-Acre Ligonier Estate Owned by Former EDMC Exec

Woodmere is one of four high-end properties owned by Robert Knutson scheduled to hit the auction block this week.

Comments

The Top Five HOME Stories of 2018

The Top Five HOME Stories of 2018

Take a look back at the biggest stories to come out of Pittsburgh’s home and design industry.

Comments