If there's anything East County has no shortage of, it's fast-food joints. My parents will never mention this when they eventually try to sell our house, but we live within a five-minute drive of two KFCs, a Burger King, two locations of Wendy's, and four McDonald's restaurants. The few awesome non-chain places that exist, like Cuba de Ayer and Old Hickory Grille in Burtonsville, are quickly overshadowed by all that is fried and breaded.
That's why I'm disappointed to say that the east side may soon get its very own Chick-Fil-A, located in the Westech Village Corner at Route 29 and Tech Road. Next Thursday (the 30th), the Planning Board will decide whether or not a Longhorn Steakhouse planned for the new shopping center can be swapped out (warning! PDF file.) for the iconic chicken restaurant.
Now, don't get me wrong: I love the place, and will regularly drive to their current locations in Fulton and Downtown Silver Spring for the titular Chick-Fil-A sandwich. I may even camp outside for a chance to have a lifetime supply of those sandwiches, as is done at every new store they open. But I'd rather keep going out of my way to enjoy Chick-Fil-A if it means we get a slightly classier place here.
Five years after Montgomery County loosened restrictions on obtaining liquor licenses that encouraged most sit-down restaurants to locate in busier locales like Bethesda or along Rockville Pike, the east side is still hurting for them. Whether you're trying to take your family out or cutting a business deal, you want to do it over a nice meal and right now, that's all we have. Yet the restaurants that open here are not only chains but fast-food chains like my beloved Wendy's, which wants to build a new store in Colesville on a site formerly intended for offices.
It's no surprise that not one but two of the District 4 County Council candidates I interviewed in 2008 pointed out that the recently-opened IHOP on Tech Road is constantly packed. But the lack of high-end dining options in East County may have as much to do with economics as politics. Wendy's and Chick-Fil-A know to open here because their counterparts have already done well here. A high-end restaurant like Houston's that would otherwise locate in an established dining destination like Bethesda doesn't have any precedents to say whether or not it would do well here.
It's a chicken-or-egg proposition. Through loosening liquor restrictions, we've made it easier for sit-down restaurants to open in East County. But is a hungry populace enough to convince more upscale places to be pioneers in a territory filled with fast food?