Despite its 1970s name, Dinette is anything but retro. Combining design elements in the style of Metropolis magazine and a philosophy of sustainability, owner/chef Sonja Finn has created a restaurant that's contributing to both conservation and the bustling East End food scene.
Finn opened Dinette last month, in a glassed-in, second-level space, above FedEx in the EastSide development. The wine bar and restaurant boasts cuisine that is "simple, fresh [and] ingredient-driven" with California-Mediterranean flair. Finn uses local and organic ingredients to craft her small menu, specializing in thin-crust pizzas ($13-15), cooked in an energy-efficient brick oven, and homemade desserts. The wine list rotates weekly; bottles range from $28-44, while glasses start at $8.
Finn, who worked in James Beard award-winning restaurants in North Carolina and San Francisco after receiving a degree from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., also studied urban sociology at Columbia University. Her academic studies would become the impetus for choosing to open her restaurant in Pittsburgh's East End.
"I did my senior thesis on the 'urban renewal' of East Liberty in the '60s and '70s," explains Finn. "That was an urban-planning disaster and the chances of East Liberty recovering from it looked pretty grim. Against all odds, it is recovering, and I wanted to be there to help the neighborhood along."
Excited by the city's new focus on neighborhood revitalization, Finn sought to take part in "all the great things that were happening" in the East End's culinary scene, as well as the region's newfound interest in being green. Her earth-friendly space boasts energy-efficient equipment, recycled paper products and reusable stainless steel straws. Dinette also filters and carbonates its own water.
Sustainability extends to Finn's staff. "Usually, cooks don't get paid very much and dishwashers even less," she says. Finn pays her staff what she considers to be a living wage and they receive health insurance.
She adds: "It seems unfair [not to] since eating out is a bit of a luxury, and it is the kitchen staff that is making this event possible for the customer."
5996 Penn Circle South, East Liberty. 412-362-0202 or www.dinette-pgh.com