The Bluegrass State might be known for its bracing bourbons, but there’s something entirely different here that can warm you down to your toes just as easily. (Well, almost.) Rich, warm, and smothered in the creamiest Mornay sauce, the Kentucky Hot Brown is the stuff of dreams come wintertime.
The Back Story
Way back in the 1920’s, The Brown Hotel in Louisville opened its luxurious doors. Some of the city’s most elite and wealthiest members frequented the hotel for ballroom dancing and drinks. Late into the night—when the band took a break—hundreds of guests would descend on the hotel’s restaurant for a snack. So in 1926, Chef Fred Schmidt whipped up something new: a hot, open-faced turkey sandwich reminiscent of Welsh rarebit, only better. After the usual ham and eggs the guests were used to eating for a late-night snack, it was a delightful change that grew in popularity and demand. Today, the iconic hotel still serves the Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich, along with establishments across the entire state.
So what’s all the clamor about? Picture this: Texas toast topped with roasted turkey and Roma tomatoes, covered in a cheesy white Mornay sauce and broiled until bubbling. Then it gets a few final slices of crispy bacon, some parsley, and a dusting of paprika. It’s no wonder the Hot Brown earned a reputation as one of the most sought-after comfort foods in Kentucky.
In fact, it’s garnered attention nationwide over the years. Everything from The L.A. Times and The Wall Street Journal to the Food Network and Travel Channel have covered the legendary sandwich. Naturally, a few variations cropped up in restaurants and home kitchens (Hot Brown casserole, anyone?) But ultimately, it’s pretty tough to improve upon the original masterpiece created nearly a century ago.
Where To Pull Over
Visitors, of course, want to experience the true home of the Hot Brown. That’s why all year long—but particularly during the Kentucky Derby—The Brown Hotel remains the busiest and best place to dig in.
In Lexington, Ramsey’s Diner is beloved for their generally authentic take with one small caveat: the cheese is added to the top instead of mixed into the sauce. And The Whistle Stop in Glendale is another beloved Hot Brown destination, with a touch of sliced ham tucked into the mix. Want a Hot Brown for breakfast? Head over to Wild Eggs in Louisville, where the “Kelsey KY Brown” is presented as the usual decadence, but with a crowning egg on top.
Photo: Sarah Jane Sanders