Joanne and I took a road trip last week through the South. One stop was Louisville, Kentucky and its Grande Dame hotel, The Brown – home to the Mint Julep, all kinds of bourbon and one of the world’s great sandwiches (more on that in a moment).
This was my second trip to Louisville, the first being when we opened a Buca di Beppo restaurant there, maybe 15 years ago.
I felt that I had to return.
On my initial visit, I was very conscious of Louisville’s standing as America’s bourbon capital, and I felt it was my patriotic duty to partake in the city’s boozy side. So we booked our room at The Brown and made dinner reservations at its famous second-floor restaurant, The English Grill.
We arrived early for dinner and took our place at the bar.
“Maker’s Mark, please. Four fingers. Straight up.”
Something about the setting made it go down so smooth. So I ordered another Maker’s Mark.
Four fingers. Straight up. For a total of a half pound of bourbon in thirty minutes.
That’s when the lights went out in Louisville.
Did I have dinner? Joanne says yes.
I wasn’t so sure. So it was back to the Brown.
The English Grill is beautiful… in an “old school” sort of way. It’s very proper, very British in feel, with well-spaced tables, friendly and efficient service. Southern hospitality DOES EXIST, and it’s even better with an English veneer.
The food? Proper and tasty iterations of cuisine from another time; well-prepared and beautifully plated.
But when I think of the Brown Hotel, one dish is top of mind, and only one: THE HOT BROWN: a delicious and artful assembly of turkey breast served open-face with bacon, cheese and Mornay sauce, served on a brioche.
Created in 1926 by the hotel’s chef, Fred Schmidt, the Hot Brown was conceived as a late night meal that the dancing and drinking crowd – up to 1200 of them on a weekend night — could enjoy after last call; basically, a fancier alternative to ham and eggs. Schmidt is said to have been inspired by Welsh rarebit, but he felt the addition of sliced turkey breast (then viewed primarily as a holiday dish) would elevate it as a menu offering. And to make the dish even more memorable, he added crispy bacon, heavy cream, Mornay sauce, Pecorini Romano cheese and Roma tomatoes, all stacked on a buttery brioche and broiled until bubbling.
Today, the Hot Brown remains as popular as it ever was. In fact, on the recent three-day Derby weekend, the hotel served 1200 of them.
I’m here to tell you: it’s as wretchedly delicious as it is caloric. If you ever find yourself in Louisville, you shouldn’t miss it. But do yourself a favor – order your Hot Brown with a Diet Coke instead of half a pound of bourbon.
THE ENGLISH GRILL
The Brown Hotel
335 W. Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202