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Dinette focuses on fresh, tasty ingredients for their pies, some grown right on the roof

| Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, 9:28 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Jay Wess (left) and Becca Hegarty, both of Lawrenceville, prepare fresh pizzas at Dinette in East Liberty on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
The dining room at Dinette in East Liberty on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Sous chef Jay Wess of Lawrenceville adds toppings to a pizza at Dinette in East Liberty on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015.

Chef Sonja Finn makes some of the city's best pizza. Don't believe me? Ask the horde of hungry guests waiting for a seat at Dinette on a recent Friday night.

The pizza-centric restaurant in East Liberty was at capacity, every nook and cranny in the tiny dining room and bar was filled. Because Dinette doesn't accept reservations, those who knew enough to wait for a table waited in a cramped space sandwiched between the bar and a line of windows. The experience was made tolerable, thanks to the flow of beer and wine and by the sight of the delectable trays of pizza floating past us on the way to be devoured.

One of the great things about the set up of Dinette is that you're able to watch the staff at work. The open layout of the restaurant creates an interesting dynamic, allowing eyes to be on the preparation at all times. Dough is formed, pies are topped and baked, and dishes are assembled all while you sit a mere few steps away. It generates a collaborative environment and enhances the appreciation as you chow down.

Each meal at Dinette begins with breadsticks — on the house. It's a different take on the bread basket, which gives a similar satisfaction without filling you to the brim before your entree comes. The act of breaking bread (sticks) with dinner companions while sipping wine sets the stage for a stellar dining adventure.

The menu isn't robust or complex, even though each dish is well-thought-out and includes the best of ingredients, some of which come from the rooftop garden. In season, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and greens are sourced from the garden directly above the Dinette space, pushing the idea of “farm to table” to the periphery.

Items on the menu change depending on available ingredients, giving Finn an opportunity to be inventive with her creations. Ever-changing, the starters and shareable small plates are fresh and complimentary to the main courses offered.

From flavorful salads like the Mimosa (leaf lettuce, avocado, shaved egg, fines herbes, cucumber and house vinegar) to the Farro (grilled Fuji apples, walnuts, Maytag blue cheese, fennel, red onion and sherry vinaigrette) and small bites like the Mixed Salami Plate, your palate will be prepped for pizza in the best way possible. All items are generously portioned to share with a friend or two.

Fresh pie toppings include tomatoes and herbs, along with the quality cheeses and crust. Like the appetizers, the entrees change frequently, depending on seasonality and availability of ingredients and Finn's innovation.

A must-have includes the fresh ricotta pizza. The crust is brushed with a light tomato sauce before it is topped with fresh basil leaves and hearty dollops of mozzarella. The slices are slightly foldable and have a crust that is thin and crispy but with a warm, doughy interior. Each bite allows for maximum flavor from all ingredients with none overpowering another.

Variations of the basic pies include those topped with prosciutto and arugula, roasted broccolini and kalamata tapenade, and sheep-milk feta and sunny-side-up eggs. There are pies that push the boundaries with sweet potatoes, lavender and gorgonzola.

One of my favorites is the salt-cured anchovies pizza. The salted fish works together with spicy jalapenos, tangy capers and fresh mozzarella in the most unbelievable way.

Most selections include fresh tomatoes, and it puts most other pizza sauces to shame.

The dessert menu doesn't offer a multitude of dishes, but the ones that are there beautifully polish off the meal. A chilled Chocolate Pot de Creme, triangles of baklava and a creamy rice pudding all make for the perfect sweet treat to end the night.

The Chocolate Pot de Creme is rich, but balanced in its decadence by a homemade whipped cream. The untraditional baklava is nutty and differs from most flaky baklava with a sweeter, chewier texture.

But chocolate, cream and nuts aside, the best part of the dessert menu is and remains the rice pudding. Not usually a star in anyone's eyes, this rice pudding, topped with warm spices, toasted almonds and coconut, is naturally sweetened to perfection.

The price of perfection comes at a cost. That horde of guests I mentioned earlier? They ate all the beef carpaccio!

There are many reasons I'll be returning to Dinette the next time I get a craving for an exotic pizza (ahem, salt-cured anchovies) but trying the beef carpaccio is at the top of the list.

Amanda McFadden is one of the food-savvy ladies of who contributes a weekly Dining Out column to Trib Total Media.

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