Smoke close to opening in Lawrenceville
The owners of Smoke BBQ Taqueria, which closed the original location in Homestead earlier this year, is close to opening its new site in Lawrenceville. Co-owner Jeff Petruso says the last big task in the renovation is replacing the building’s HVAC system, which should take about six more weeks.

Apart from being significantly larger, the new space, located at 4115 Butler Street next to Row House Cinema, will strongly resemble the old space, right down to its decorative use of salvaged wood and architectural elements. Given the following the taqueria developed while on Eighth Avenue in Homestead, it’s hard to imagine a more eagerly anticipated restaurant opening could occur in Pittsburgh this year. That said…

Former Panther Hollow Inn space will become a Chipotle
Maybe it’s of little consolation to the generations of CMU students, staff and alumni who fondly made the PHI their bar-home, but the space won’t be vacant for long.

Renovations are underway which will convert the longtime Forbes Avenue watering hole into a new installment of one of America’s largest fast-food burrito joints. College students and area employees are sure to eat it up—pun intended, I guess—but nostalgic alumni and locals are still looking elsewhere for a cheap pitcher of beer to go with a slice of pizza and a dodgy backroom poker game.

Blowfish BBQ digs in for football season
After enjoying a year of tremendous growth, Justin “Hootie” Blakey will take his Blowfish BBQ back to D’s Six Pax & Dogz in Regent Square for Sundays during the football season. While he’s locked up regular gigs peddling smoked drumsticks, sausage, smashed red potatoes and mac & cheese at The Brew Gentlemen and Arsenal Cider House’s garden on weekends over the summer—on top of a cadre of private catering work—Hootie is excited to finally roll out some of the dishes he considers his best.

“All those things I don’t vend are finally going to come out here,” he says, adding that ribs and his signature brisket will likely be on the menu throughout the season. “The brisket is only getting better. I made the three best briskets of my life last week for a wedding I catered.”

Hootie, who maintains that brisket, while not a part of his regular vending menu is his finest offering, was so proud of those meats that he hand-carved every slice served.

The proper adjectives to describe Hootie’s brisket don’t currently exist, and Eat/Drink heartily recommends making the trip to D’s on a football Sunday. It’s worth the trip.

Heath Department will display restaurant grades
The Allegheny County Health Department will begin publicly displaying its grades of restaurants early next year.

The plan, approved by the county Board of Health earlier this week, will now go to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who’s been a staunch public supporter of the measure.

Instead of merely displaying the standard green ACHD sticker of approval on the front door, restaurants will prominently display a grade between “A” and “C,” awarded in accordance with the results of the health department’s annual inspection. We presume that anything beneath “C” could do serious damage to your ability to ingest any more food.

While the health department currently records food safety violations, it does not record overall scores. Restaurants disagreeing with their grades will be able to ask for one follow-up inspection per year at the cost of $150. The grades are, of course, designed to encourage higher food service standards.

During a seven-month pilot testing of the grading program, the ACHD found 75 percent of facilities rated “A” during initial inspection, and that 91 percent improved to that grade after a follow-up inspection.

Eat/Drink sincerely hopes that in implementing this policy, ACHD adopts a system of color-coded smiley face stickers.

Matthew Wein

Matthew Wein is a local writer, editor, blogger, storyteller and proud native Pittsburgher. Once described as "a man of things," he covers city design, spirits and craft beer for NEXT, where he keeps all of the editorial meetings light-hearted and interesting. His interests include sorting books, looking at old things and candles which smell like old-growth pine forests.