Review: Dinette

Dinette is one of those places that just about everyone has told me I need to hit up, but yet I knew very little about. Part of that is because they’re in a part of town I don’t frequent all that often (East Liberty), and part of that is because they’re pretty well hidden even when I am in the area. Well, it’s really kind of “hidden in plain view.” The sit way up on the top level of the parking structure next to Whole Foods.

Anyway, sounds like a good destination for a FoodBurgh Meetup, right?


5996 Penn Cir S
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
(412) 362-0202

Dinette on Urbanspoon

I’ll classify Dinette as kind of an upscale-ish, locally inspired pizza destination. Just don’t read too much into the upscale: they’re actually quite casual. China Millman called it “casual fine dining,” and I’ll wholeheartedly agree. You get all the quality and high expectations of fine dining, without a hint of stuffiness. Better yet, they seem to really deliver, which isn’t always the case for straight up “fine dining.” As appropriate for the local sourcing, the menu changes frequently (daily, in fact) but always features pizza with a spattering of Italian-themed appetizers and salads. They also sport a small but generally high quality beer list (all bottled) and what looks like a wine list of similar quality (actually,  probably better).

Clean, bright, tiny. The first thing to note about Dinette is that it’s full of large windows. Add to that an uncluttered, modern look and a small open kitchen and you get a very inviting space. Though the wide windows help, the place is still tiny; there are serious limits to the number of people they can sustain at once. The good news: they hold an outdoor liquor license, so you can order a beer and hang out in front while you wait for a table. On the night we happened to go, that was a welcome opportunity for a beer while we let them find space for the group.

Beyond just accommodating. When I called to make plans for the Meetup outing, I was told they didn’t take reservations. We were going on a week night, so the hope was that we’d be able to wing it and get a table without too much of a wait. That would have worked wonderfully if I didn’t run up against my first ever 100% turnout (usually, I run 75%). We had a huge number of people sign up list, and no one dropping out at the last minute (which would have been more typical of our group).

The staff at Dinette reacted quite graciously to our size—splitting us in two and letting us crowd up both behind the bar and on a bench out front while we waited for a spot. The nice weather outside made the outside option that much better, but I seemed to move back and forth between the crowds more than just chill in one place. Basically, as long as we were patient, they were pleasant and accepting. I would normally feel far more guilty about inundating such a small place, but the staff at Dinette handled it so well that even I didn’t feel all that bad.

The moving target menu. Because the menu changes daily, you really do have to check it the day you head out. You’ll always find the same structure, but pizza toppings and salad definitions change just about every day. Chef (and owner) Sonja Finn seems to take great care in defining each 3-4 topping arrangement: they’re really all interesting and somewhat lively combinations—though never with so many ingredients as to muddy the flavor profile. Some arrangements work on a veggie diet, others don’t, but they’re all fairly light and probably even reasonably healthy. I don’t think I’d really feel guilty about eating anything on the menu—except maybe that fritto option in the appetizer’s list that seems to appear in some form every night.

Fritto Misto w/ Wild Shrimp and Sweet Potatos

Art on a plate. Imagine a pizza with toppings gently placed into just the right pattern. When basil leaves appear, they’re even carefully arranged in an outwardly radiating star. Other toppings are more coarsely distributed, but always seem to be well distributed and in exactly the right ratio. Basically, they’re paying close attention to each pie. The pizzas come to the table basically as they come out of the oven—rather than all at once, and the staff encourages sharing of pizza as it arrives. In my loosely connected group, the sharing was somewhat limited but picked up at the end of the meal.

Prosciutto Pizza

Wild Nettles Pizza

Fresh Mozzarella Pizza

Don’t re-configure the artwork. One menu aspect worth noting: substitutions run against the rules. It’s not clearly whether that’s an operational efficiency issue or just an “enjoy the art as it is” issue, but some in the group found it problematic. Personally, I’m all for it–regardless of the rational. If a restaurant chooses to construct a dish in a particular way, who am I as a consumer to tell them how it could have been better? You could argue that I’m right, but only on the grounds of being a customer–certainly not on the grounds of actually being right.

One the greener side. Because I’m me, I ordered a salad–thinking it might be more of a dinner salad than it was. Just like the pizza, the salad was nicely plated, though the lettuce pieces were large enough to require some careful knife work. As with the pizza, The salads come pre-defined: this time with an associated dressing (Green Goddess Dressing, in this case). That said, they gladly brought it on the side.

Caesar Salad

Lola Rosa Lettuce w/ Dates, Red Onion, and Gorgonzola

Beer: thinly spread but well selected. It’s worth discussing drinks, though only briefly as that’s really not the focus. The beer list included about 5 different bottled options that were surprisingly well distributed across different styles. I ordered Stoudt’s Scarlett Lady (an American Brown Ale), though other options included Blackout Stout from Great Lakes (a Russian Imperial Stout) and a regional IPA (though which one completely eludes me right now…maybe Nugget Nectar?). It feels like the wine list deserves some treatment as well, but I honestly know very little about specific wineries. Anyone who cares should just look directly at the online list (updated daily, of course). Now if only they would publish a current beer list on a similar page.

You pretty much need to give it a try. From my perspective, just about everyone should try Dinette at least once: it’s just a must-try kind of place. Some of my friends have called it a little pricey (and the City Paper agrees), but I think that price is well worth it. If I were to go again, I’d split a pizza with a friend and pair it with the garden salad of the evening. That combo without any drinks would run me about $16, so it’s a few dollars more than a number of other casual establishments—though, in my opinion, that’s a couple extra dollars well spent.

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12 Responses to “Review: Dinette”

  1. Janelle Says:
    May 10th, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Great review! I’m glad to hear they have an outdoor liquor license, I’ve found this place is definitely worth the wait. If you get a chance next time, try eating at the bar in front of the “kitchen” it’s a totally different experience!

  2. Steve H. Says:
    May 10th, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    I was part of the meetup, and in fact you can see me outside the window in the 2nd picture. Unfortunately, I have a decidedly different opinion of Dinette.

    The meetup group, due to its sheer size, had to be broken up into two groups. I was in group B, which had 7 people in it (myself included). Group A had 10 people in it. Now I leave it to the reader and other commentators to consider the quality of an establishment where a group arrives at 6:30 and does not get seated until 7:50. On a Wednesday evening. Something that was originally going to be a simple dinner turned out to be an entire evening excursion.

    All together, I consider Dinette to be more of an upscale cafe than a proper restaurant. Although it’s difficult to see on the picture of the menu, there are two columns to the menu. The entire right column is made up of mostly wines with a few beers and other drinks, which leaves the remaining column on the left for the food. And on that column are about 6-8 different pizza options, a few different appetizer options, a few non-pizza meals, and a couple desserts.

    As I (and my group) only had pizzas, I can comment well on them. They are exotic. As a name like “Wild Nettle” pizza might suggest, you won’t likely find this at your local pizzeria. Be prepared to ask about ingredients. I didn’t know what Sorrel or Parano was before I went. There were so many exotic pizzas, I almost recommend going with a decent sized group that is willing to share. Of course if you do so, it may take a while to get seated.

    The pizzas themselves were about 12-13″ which is probably a little more than plenty for the average person. In fact, I would say that portion is the only thing NOT upscale about this place. If you finish your meal, you will be stuffed, not just full. If you prefer lighter dinners, I would recommend splitting 3 pizzas among 4 people.

    The one other thing that I feel is necessary to comment on is the wine. Though I’m not a wine connoisseur, it seems a slap in the face where the cheapest wine was $7 glass/$28 bottle (most were considerably more than that), when one of the city’s most impressive Wine and Spirits stores is walking distance from there. For the proprietors of Dinette, I would actually put on the menu some recommended wines to accompany the various pizzas. With such exotic blends of food, even your average wine aficionado would not know what goes with what. I say this because had a wine been recommended, I probably would have tried it, despite the price I had just criticized earlier.

    Would I recommend it? The food is very unique and definitely tasty. But I am not a fan of the casual/fine dining fusion. I prefer my dining out experiences to fit within several different catagories, and this place defies convention. While on one hand, you’re there for the food. On the other hand, the atmosphere, and I would dare say the clientele as well, promote a feeling of being there primarily to hang out with your friends with food as an afterthought. For the latter, it’s tough to recommend Dinette as there are many other places that have an equally casual environment with a larger menu and better prices. For the former, there’s something about it that I cannot describe where I left feeling like there was something lacking.

  3. mike Says:
    May 10th, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    Well, it’s good to see some different opinions. I think the issue here is that I’m actually a big fan of the “casual fine dining” trend. I tend not to enjoy a “fine dining” atmosphere but look forward to an opportunity to enjoy more interesting food than straight up “casual dining.”

    Good points on the wine though. I get they feeling they put great care into picking items for the list, but I suspect that most people aren’t that far from my level of wine awareness. A little guidance could go a long way.

  4. Amy B Says:
    May 11th, 2010 at 2:20 am

    Great review, Mike! I can’t wait to try Dinette!

  5. Shawn Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    most overhyped restaurant in the burgh in a long while… i’ve gone once and will never go back. abysmal food, poor selection on the menu, but i will give them five stars on decor – the place looks great. my pizza was essentially cardboard covered in bad cheese with sparse awful mushrooms. the olive appetizer was equally disgusting. i normally will always give places a second chance, but not this one.

  6. mike Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Shawn: It seems this is a love it or hate it kind of place. I really loved it–as did many of the people who went out with me. Others I’ve talked to wined about expensive pizza. Others just didn’t like the pizza (like you).

    I think it really depends on what you’re going for. I’m kind of a fan.

  7. jamie Says:
    April 5th, 2011 at 9:57 am

    I was actually disappointed in Dinette when I went this winter even though I was very excited to try. First, I ordered a glass of wine, and they were very stingy with the portions. I ordered the soup as well, and their portabella soup was suspiciously similar to the boxed vegetarian portabella Imagine soups that are on sale weekly at Whole Foods. The only difference was that they added creme fraiche. The pizza was small (we ordered one each) and overpriced although it did taste pretty good.

    Overall, between my husband and I – we spent close to $100 on dinner and left feeling like we had been a bit scammed.

    I would recommend Pi Coal Fired any day over Dinette and will not be returning.

  8. Dinette Says:
    April 9th, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    […] In case you are still on the fence,here is another positive review from Mike at Foodburgh […]

  9. jocuri Says:
    November 8th, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    As someone said above, nothing!

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