My Visit to Louisville, KY: The Hot Brown Sandwich a Contender for Thanksgiving

Ann Arbor Food

The Hot Brown

LOUISVILLE – Not every town can boast its own sandwich like Kentucky’s Hot Brown, an open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon, tomato and Mornay sauce.

(What is Ann Arbor’s signature sandwich? I cannot think of one. Feel free to comment and vote for possible contenders. Also, for those looking for something different for Thanksgiving, this sandwich might do the trick.)

Many eateries in Louisville offer the Hot Brown, but arguably the best is at J. Graham’s Café, located at the Brown Hotel. It was invented in 1926 by Chef Fred Schmidt at the hotel, from which the sandwich takes its name.

“There are other items on the menu, but most come for the Hot Brown,” said Matt Wilcoxen, sous chef of J. Graham’s Cafe. “On busy days we sell about a hundred.”

A quick view of the tables at J. Graham’s reveals the signature oven-safe plates featuring a bubbling Hot Brown in front of all but a few diners.

For those interested in trying this sandwich, you better bring your appetite. This is not low-calorie fare. The first ingredient in the two-serving recipe is a quart of cream. And we have not even mentioned the cheese, butter, turkey and two pieces of bacon yet.

“It is so rich that many diners split a Hot Brown and finish off the meal with a salad,” said Wilcoxen.

Many visitors to Louisville feel that trying a Hot Brown is an absolute-must experience.

“It would have been a shame not to have it,” said Jeff Beck, a guest of the hotel, who was in town to attend a wedding. “It was very unique. I recommend it.”

You can tell if people like their food by how quiet they get when they are eating. Eating a Hot Brown left one Voice staffer speechless.

The traditional Hot Brown is made with turkey, but you can substitute country ham. J. Graham’s Cafe also features an Egg Florentine version for breakfast.

The Legendary Hot Brown Sandwich Recipe

Recipe courtesy of the Brown Hotel Serves two (or four)

2 ounces whole butter
2 ounces all-purpose flour
1 quart heavy cream
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
14 ounces sliced roasted turkey breast
2 slices of Texas toast, crust trimmed
4 slices of crispy bacon
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced in half

In a two-quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined and forms a thick paste (roux). Continue to cook roux for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk whipping cream into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about two to three minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in Pecorino Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

For each Hot Brown, place one slice of toast in an oven-safe dish and cover with seven ounces of turkey. Take the two halves of Roma tomato and set them alongside the base of turkey and toast. Next, pour one-half of the Mornay sauce to completely cover the dish.

Sprinkle with additional Pecorino Romano cheese. Place entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove from broiler, cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top, sprinkle with paprika and parsley and serve immediately.

Ham variation: Substitute equal parts country ham for turkey.

Egg florentine version: Substitute four poached eggs, one bag of frozen spinach (thawed, liquid squeezed out), and six artichoke hearts pieces for the turkey.

Follow the recipe for the turkey version, but instead of turkey, place half the spinach on the Texas toast. Place two poached eggs on top of the spinach and plate three artichoke heart pieces on the plate. Add the rest of the ingredients and broil.

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