The usual recommendations - any of the brands are fine - Sony, Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax...it's more a matter of finding the best camera for you, that feels good in your hands, fits your budget, and has as many of the features you need as you can get in that budget.
No reason to be discouraged on the Sony options - truth is, what you'll get from any of the brands will be pretty similar for each price band. At the price of the A290, there isn't much else available - it's very inexpensive. Move up a small notch, to the $450-500 range, and you can get a Sony A500 or A550, or Pentax KX, or Nikon D3100 - all of these would be a decent step up from the A290, with faster continuous shooting and much better high ISO ability.
But on the flip side, you may not need those things, and the A290 is still a solid DSLR, much better than a P&S, accepts interchangeable lenses, and has stabilization in body - so it's certainly going to allow you to take stunning photos if you have the skill to match and the right lens. Those other cameras just give you more flexibility or range to expand into other types of photography, like action or handheld low light.
Each price range will give you fairly close performance between the brands - figure out what you think you'll want or need to shoot, and what your upper limit budget is, and you can find which cameras fit in that range to try out.
Sony DSLR-A580 / Sony 18-250mm / Minolta 50mm F1.7 / Sigma 30mm F1.4 / Tamron 10-24mm / Tamron 150-600mm / Tamron 90mm F2.8 macro / Minolta 300mm F4 APO
Sony A6000 / 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 / 55-210mm F4-6.3 / 10-18mm F4 / 35mm F1.8 / 16mm F2.8 / via manual adapter, lots of Pentax K mount, Konica K/AR mount, and Leica M mount manual lenses