Why Are There No Good Restaurants on the Main Line?

I think I know the secret

“Free for lunch”? A simple question. One that I either receive or pose to someone else several times a week. Living on the Main Line as a stay-at-home mom (read: unemployed) has a structure and symbiosis all its own. Because we do all the driving, car-line waiting, shopping, repairing, entertaining, cleaning, errand running, house/car maintenance, blah blah blah, we feel that a lunch date here and there is not just a pleasure but a right — a pay-off in lieu of a paycheck.

Next question will always be, “Where should we go”? You’d like to think that we Main Line Moms are just interested in expanding our dining horizons, but the truth is that there is no place to go. Really, there seems to be no good restaurant on the Main Line. Now, I know you all have your favorites, and while there are many choices, there really is no stand-out dining star here in the ‘burbs — and I think I know why. [SIGNUP]

First, there’s no strip. No Walnut Street. No Rittenhouse Square. No central location. Sure, there are plenty of restaurants up and down Lancaster Avenue, but they are not clustered as they are in town. And that means no central parking. In fact, parking is horrendous for just about every restaurant here. There are exceptions — Fleming’s comes to mind — but generally parking is a nightmare. In fact, The Ladies Who Lunch have a two pass rule at Tango. If you can’t find a space after two go-arounds, it’s off to second choice. Many of the little gems along Lancaster have great food and ambiance and wait staff, all the things you want, but no easy, convenient parking.

Second, we’re fickle. If we’re going to circle the streets of Narberth searching for a parking space like a vulture fixed on road kill, the place better be a knockout. So we spread our disposable income out as evenly as we possibly can. Each time a new restaurant opens, we flock to it hoping upon hope that it is the rain storm come to deliver us from drought. Usually, it’s just another reasonably good restaurant, one that would develop a loyal clientele if it were located anywhere else. We go a few times and then flock to the next restaurant opening in the space where our old favorite used to be.

Lastly, any brave soul opening a restaurant here in the suburbs had better grasp an elusive reality that is hard to define but they’ll know it when they see it. It’s that look of single-minded purpose, that Main Line mentality that regards dining as sustenance. You’ve seen it: the couple who enter the restaurant already searching to see if a table is open, wanting to be seated right away. No lingering at the bar for them, no sir. And while there are several places that seem to have a lively bar crowd, the patrons are all young people grabbing a cocktail, or several cocktails, and some bar munchies before they head home. Restaurants here are missing the electricity of the “see and be seen” set, the diners who start with cocktails at the bar and then settle in for a great meal with the sense that they’re participating in a magically festive evening, one where the crowd, the food, the décor, the staff and the company all blend together to create an experience. Not just a meal. Folks out here just want to get fed and get home in time to watch NCIS. So if your only draw is food, it better be damn good. And fast, too. It’s a new episode tonight.

BETH TURCHI lives on the Main Line.