Collingswood — one of our region's richest restaurant zones — sees the debut next week of the cozily gorgeous Hearthside, whose Jersey-rooted crew did plenty of time in Philly's top restaurants. Also this week, in the midst of one of those post-Labor Day restaurant-opening booms, I found superior Indian food (and a nifty nod to dining-room hygiene) in King of Prussia, homey Colombian comida in Kensington, Southern-ish charm smack in the middle of Center City, and a riff on a diner in Washington Square West. Want a rundown on the dozens of restaurants opening in the next few months? Check my fall preview, just posted at In the drink department this week, I found a tall glass of fruity refreshment at the Blue Bell Inn in Montco. Critic Craig LaBan is on assignment this week, so instead of a Q&A, I ask you to talk amongst yourselves. (I'll give you a topic: "Why are sweetbreads neither sweet nor breads?" Discuss.) All kidding aside: If you need food news, click here and follow me here and also here. Email me tips, suggestions, etc. here. And may I remind you that if someone forwarded you this free newsletter and you like what you're reading, sign up here and you'll get it every week. Be sure to check your spam filter if you don't receive the confirmation email.

Patrons can dine at a kitchen counter at Hearthside in Collingswood.
Patrons can dine at a kitchen counter at Hearthside in Collingswood.

Hearthside: Chef builds restaurant from ground up

Scratch cooking is the best. For their debut as restaurateurs, chef Dom and Lindsay Piperno built their own BYOB (with apartments above) from the ground up on a Collingswood corner. The cozy Hearthside (801 Haddon Ave.), debuting Monday, Sept. 18, brings together Piperno (a Vernick alum) and chef Aaron Gottesman (The Fat Ham) in an open kitchen outfitted with an impressive wood-fired grill. American menu, by the way, is being held under wraps till opening day. Ambit Architecture built the contemporary, 45-seat dining room under a wood frame. There's a chef's counter plus a 10-seat semiprivate table tucked on the side for big parties. Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

What we’re drinking

Shandy ($10)
Shandy ($10)

Shandy at the Blue Bell Inn  

Let's grab the very last of summer, and ward off scurvy at the same time, shall we? At Blue Bell Inn, you should try the house shandy, that bubbly refresher that traditionally mixes beer and a citrus drink. Blue Bell's starts with Schofferhofer, which itself is a shandy because it's hefeweizen grapefruit beer. Then comes a shot of Deep Eddy Grapefruit vodka for a double dose of citrus. Very smooth, too.

Where we’re eating: Choolaah, Usaquén, Dixie Kitchen, Ugly Duckling 

Choolaah salad topped with salmon at Choolaah.
Choolaah salad topped with salmon at Choolaah.

Four tandoors — squat open-topped ovens — sit inside the glassed-in kitchen at the new Choolaah, an energetic fast-casual Indian BYOB that opens its first Philly-area location Friday, Sept. 15, at King of Prussia Town Center. At 600 degrees, two of the tandoors sear the skewered chicken, salmon, and lamb meatballs, while the two others turn out the bread (white and wheat naan). This is the real daal. Order at the counter, where pictures and "chaaty" staff make it easy to navigate the menus. With sauces and sides, meals are served on platters, in bowls, on salads, or in sandwiches for about $11 a head. Quality is tops, food sourcing impeccable. (Unhappy with the paneer they found in the Midwest during development, the founders — two Indian tech investors — contracted with Amish farmers to do the cheese right.) Choolaah also appeals to the germophobes among us. There's a slick hand-washing station set up in the dining room; plunge your hands into the buckets, wait 15 seconds, grab a handy paper towel to dry off, and dine happy. And speaking of happy: Do not skip dessert, whether it's a packaged cup of mango or malai kulfi ice cream (whose spoons are tucked cleverly under the lids) or the rich chocolate truffles.

Chef Mel Tenorio and Samantha Schlegel are onto something deliciously different at Usaquén (1700 N. Third St.), their Colombian bruncherie on a Kensington corner. Feast on arepas, huevos pericos, coconut rice, or maybe a pork belly, egg, and avocado breakfast sandwich built on pan de bono, a cheese bread. Hours: 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Dinner is coming soon.

Old-fashioned scratch cooking is the lure at Dixie Picnic, which just branched out from Malvern into 1306 Chestnut St. in Center City. All sorts of box-lunch combos come with a deviled egg, a side, and an Upcake — owner Tracey Deschaine's gloriously rich, iced-on-three-sides cupcakes. It's open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.

Ugly Duckling features the crew from Blue Duck in Northeast Philly (and its newer bar-restaurant on Broad Street) in a simple set-up at 212 S. 11th St. in Washington Square West. This one feels like a diner, with a straight-ahead menu served 7 a.m.-midnight weekdays, 10 a.m.-midnight weekends. Alcohol includes beer and cocktails from a service bar, so it's not a hang.

This week’s openings. (No closings to report!)

Kuriimii | Chinatown

Soft-serve ice cream in wildly different flavors, at 1023 Cherry St.

Pistola's Del Sur | South Philadelphia

The guys from Jose Pistola's and Sancho Pistola's head south into the former Palladino's with a third cantina.

P.J. Whelihan's |  Malvern

The sports bar adds to its collection on Sept. 18, opening at 12 General Warren Blvd.

SPiN | Center City

The Ping-Pong lounge, which serves food and drinks, opens at 211 S. 15th St. in the basement of the building that houses Cheesecake Factory.

10Below | Rittenhouse

Center City gets more rolled ice cream. This shop, a branch of the New York City original, opens Friday, Sept. 15, at 42 S. 17th St., across from Liberty Place.

Craig LaBan is on assignment

Burning restaurant question? Email Craig here. His weekly chats about restaurants, food, and drink will resume shortly. (He's on a special project that we just can't wait to share with you.)