It’s 7:30 a.m., and we’re standing in a McDonalds outside of Louisville. It’s packed — and not with people pulling off of I-64. McDonalds is teeming with locals. They’re greeting one another, grabbing coffee and tables, and catching up on the week’s news.

McDonalds as the neighborhood coffee shop.

Where, you may ask, is the neighborhood coffee shop? Nowhere along the strip we’ve stopped. (And for those of you wondering why we’re in a fast food chain when this is the roadtrip of no fast food or chain restaurants; well, the whining has led to a compromise: Fast food for breakfast.)

The road we’re on boasts an Arby’s, a Burger King, the McDonalds we’re standing in, a Cracker Barrel and several other national behemoths. The only local establishment I see is a Farm Market next door that touts fresh produce and homemade peach ice cream. (We would love to eat some of that, but the stand won’t open for a few hours.)

It strikes me that McDonalds’ role as the local coffee shop is exactly why my husband and I decided to avoid chains on this 1,100-mile trip from Maryland to Missouri. Rather than stay on the outskirts of a city or retreat to our hotel’s restaurant, we want to walk our locavore talk. We want to explore our host cities’ neighborhoods, support their businesses and see what local chefs are doing with local food.

Last night, we ate at the North End Cafe (http://www.northendcafe.com/about-us/), about a mile or so outside of Louisville’s downtown. The restaurant features locally sourced chicken and Kentucky-raised, grass-fed beef. It serves local produce — organic, our server told us, whenever possible.

The menu was varied (and reasonably priced), with salads, sandwiches, tapas and a variety of entrees. My husband had the monkfish medallions; I had roast chicken with mashed potatoes and crisply sauteed haricots verts. The big boy scarfed his burger. The little boy ploughed through enchiladas, black beans, Spanish rice and guacamole.

We loved the food, but we relished the neighborhood vibe even more. Couples (of all persuasions), families, young people and seniors … all were coming in from the neighborhood (which is packed with art galleries, cafes and old shotgun-style houses) and downtown for a Friday night meal.

We spent some time talking to the boys about why we’re taking a “local food” trip. They didn’t quite get it. But they sure enjoyed their meals, and they had fun driving through the neighborhood afterward.

All in all, a delicious and successful evening. It almost took the sting out of a 7:30 a.m. breakfast at McDonalds.

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