John Curtas is …

My Old Kentucky Sandwich

Too few people understand a really good sandwich. – James Beard

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For those not in the know, the Hot Brown is a legendary Louisville sandwich. Although not as well known as bourbon and The Kentucky Derby, it is every bit as iconic in that neck of the woods as those two bluegrass specialties.

It was created in 1926 at the Brown Hotel in the Derby City, as a late night alternative to ham and eggs, and no self-respecting Louisville-ian would ever dare question its preeminence among the world’s sliced bread and meat concoctions. And, along with a mint julep, you’ll see it just about everywhere on the first Saturday in May, i.e., Derby Day, i.e., this Saturday.

Variations on the theme are many, but the essence of a Hot Brown is open-faced, roast turkey on thick toast, topped with bacon and sliced tomato, and smothered in a classic, Mornay cheese sauce. (ELV likes to substitute thin slices of Kentucky country ham for the bacon, and a few dashes of Tabasco in the cheese sauce for a slightly spicy kick.)

Just hearing the words “hot brown” conjures in ELV memories of sultry Louisville summers, leafy, tree-lined boulevards, and sipping good whisky to the sounds of tinkling glasses and soft, southern drawls. Three decades hence, he remembers his seven years in that city with great fondness, even if he has long since drifted away from the many friends he once had there.

If  hearing about this sandwich does that to us, imagine what seeing it on a Las Vegas menu did to our spirits the other day. But there it was, at The Barrymore, just waiting to take us back down memory lane to a time when the world was our oyster, and thirty-two years of trials and tribulations hadn’t take their toll on our soul.

Back when he was going to law school in Louisville (and serving as a public defender for four years), he enjoyed hot browns simply as a damn good sandwich — an edible piece of Louisville’s food culture — just as lip-smackingly delicious as a slice of Derby Pie or a tray of buttermilk biscuits from the Inn at Shaker Village.

Louisville (then and now) may not be Chicago or Portland (Maine or Oregon), but it has homegrown traditions of great food that are every bit as toothsome, with a long history of local agriculture underscoring its dining culture. And compared to Indianapolis, it’s Paris and New York rolled into one.

These days, ELV can’t eat anything without thinking and dissecting it, so when we saw one on that menu, we tucked into it with a bit of trepidation. Would it be a weak imitation? A noble failure? Or, even worse, a complete travesty?

Thankfully, The Barrymore’s Hot Brown acquits itself admirably. The turkey is fresh roasted, the toast, slightly sweet brioche, and the bacon thick and of good quality. About the only thing to give a purist pause was the “cheese gravy” adorning the meat and the ripe tomato slice. While not a Mornay — more like a brown sauce thickened with cheese — it tasted plenty cheesy enough, and by the end of the festivities, the only thing we were complaining about was that there wasn’t more of it.

The whole kit and kaboodle (including this place’s killer fries) costs $13.50 — and had us humming “My Old Kentucky Home” all the way to our car.

THE BARRYMORE

In the Royal Resort Hotel

99 Convention Center Drive

Las Vegas, NV 89109

702.866.2159

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5 Responses to My Old Kentucky Sandwich

  • Delicious ELV! We usually never see the divine Hot Brown on menus out West. Our family used to make an annual trip to Kentucky every August. I have fond memories of those trips to the Bluegrass and the warming Hot Brown they serve at Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill.

  • No mention of Sanchez leaving Twist yet?

  • I have NEVER seen a Hot Brown on a menu outside of my home town of Louisville. Bobby Flay supposedly has one on the menu at one of his New York establishments. I have enjoyed the HB at the Brown Hotel’s English Grill and it’s very good. The best one I ever had at a restaurant was at Churchill Down’s itself in the Turf Club. But nothing is as good as my Mom’s who also substituted country ham for the bacon. It was a Saturday morning tradition that I dearly miss. If someone in Las Vegas starts making Benedictine spread or Beer Cheese I’ll start calling it Louisville west. Who’s ready for a mint julep?

  • The Brown Hotel does not use tomato, and it uses an alfredo sauce rather than mornay. I have to say I like this better. The Grand Lux Cafe at the Venetian has a Hot Brown that comes closer to The Brown Hotel, but I do agree with you. The Hot Brown is a real sandwich’s sandwich!

  • Umm Erik, The Brown Hotel *does* use tomato and they do *not* use alfredo sauce and it is the best damn “sandwich” I have ever had (my memory and the Brown Hotel’s posted recipe can attest to that). I don’t know what you had with alfredo sauce and without tomato, but it was NOT a Hot Brown.

    Damn. Watching the Derby and now reading about the Hot Brown has me itching to get back to bourbon country and stay awhile.

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