We cannot tell you much about the menu in the restaurants of the Brown Hotel in Louisville because, frankly, we’ve paid little attention to it when we visited. We don’t go to the restaurants; we call room service and have our meal delivered. Because we are historical-minded types, that meal is always a single food – a Kentucky hot brown. This is one of America’s most distinctive sandwiches, invented by the hotel some time in the 1920s. Supposedly, it began as a late-night snack for revelers who wanted something hot, hearty, and fun. A hot brown is a fork-and-knife job for certain: toast topped with white turkey meat under a sizzling spill of cheesy cream sauce, slices of tomato, and strips of bacon.
Although it was invented in Louisville, the Hot Brown is now found in restaurants throughout Kentucky. Its variations are nearly endless. We’ve had “Cajun hot browns” with hunks of shrimp and crawfish or lengths of andouille sausage instead of turkey; we’ve seen Italian hot browns in which prosciutto and mozzarella take the place of bacon and American cheese. We’ve even heard tell of a vegetarian hot brown, made with asparagus, mushrooms, and zucchini!
At its original home in Louisville, the hot brown comes in a ceramic dish that contains so much of the luscious goopy sauce that it looks more like a bowl of thick cheese and bacon soup.