Lexington’s unofficial Hot Brown Trail guide: Fries to pizza to inside-out versions
It is not unusual for people who are not from Kentucky to ask, “What’s a ‘Hot Brown’?”
In the roaring ’20’s, as the story goes, Louisville’s prestigious landmark The Brown Hotel drew hundreds of guests nightly for its popular dinner dance. By the wee hours of the morning, guests grew weary of dancing and made their way to the hotel’s restaurant for a bite to eat.
Sensing their desire for something more appealing than traditional ham and eggs, Chef Fred Schmidt created something new: An open-faced, roasted and sliced turkey sandwich served over Texas toast points with two strips of crispy bacon, Roma tomatoes, Pecorino Romano cheese, and a splendidly delicate Mornay sauce, served broiled and piping hot. Thus, the iconic Hot Brown was born in 1926.
A dish now so popular an entire week was devoted to it in Louisville this past October.
The Brown Hotel’s timeless sandwich has been featured in “Southern Living,” “The Los Angeles Times,” NBC’s “Today Show,” Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food,” and “The Wall Street Journal,” to name but a few.
You probably should not call yourself a true Kentuckian if you have never tried a Hot Brown, spoonbread, a shot of bourbon, burgoo and beer cheese. Kentucky staples.
Is it necessary to drive to Louisville to experience a Hot Brown? It is not. However, I recently did. Call it research. To compare the original to the many Hot Browns also available around Lexington.
Chef de Cuisine Arkan Bajalani received the following simple instruction when he joined J. Graham’s Café at The Brown Hotel in 2013, “Do whatever you want with the menu. Just do not touch the Hot Brown.”
Thankfully, he has not. It is undeniably delicious and superbly satisfying as is. Which explains why more than 30,000 Hot Browns are sold at The Brown Hotel each year.
Chef Bajalani did, however, go on to invent a “Hot Brown Pasta” dish and if you visit The Brown Hotel, you owe it to yourself and to your taste-buds to try it as well.
But while Louisville may be the birthplace of the uniquely Kentucky dish, many Central Kentucky restaurants can certainly hold their own when it comes to serving up the delectable, bubbly, cheesy, and comforting bacon-topped dish.
The following is a list and guide to area restaurants known for their various iterations of the Hot Brown that make-up the unofficial “Lexington Hot Brown Trail.”
How many have you tried?
AP Suggins 345 Romany Rd. – Turkey on toast topped with a Mornay sauce, bacon, cheddar cheese and tomato. Large $13.95, small $9.95.
Beaumont Bar & Grill
Beaumont Bar & Grill 3070 Lakecrest Circle – Ham and turkey on Texas toast, with tomato, bacon, cheddar cheese, and a rich creamy sauce. $10.99.
Biscuit Belly 652 E. Main St. – Turkey, smoked Gouda Mornay, bacon, and roasted tomato over two biscuits. $13.
BLVD Grill 844 Hays Blvd. - Texas toast covered with turkey, Mornay sauce, bacon, melted cheddar cheese and tomato. Large $14, small $10.
Boonedogs 5902 Old Richmond Rd. – Don’t miss these loaded Hot Brown fries. Available exclusively in Lexington here. Waffle fries smothered with country ham, turkey, cheddar jack cheese, Mornay sauce, bacon, tomato, Parmesan cheese, and chives. $18.
Brontë Bistro 161 Lexington Green Circle – Texas toast topped with ham, turkey, bacon, tomato, Mornay sauce, and cheddar cheese. $15.
Carson’s Food & Drink
Carson’s Food & Drink 362 E. Main St. – A Hot Brown Benedict, available for brunch. Shaved ham and chicken on buttermilk biscuits, topped with smoked Gouda cheese sauce, mozzarella, Gruyére cheese, provolone, cherrywood smoked bacon, tomato, and an over-easy egg. $14.
Cellar Bar & Grille
Cellar Bar & Grille 3256 Lansdowne Dr. – Turkey and ham served over toast points, and topped with Mornay sauce, cheddar, tomatoes, and bacon. Served with a side salad. $12.50.
Columbia Steak House
Columbia Steak House 201 N. Limestone or 2750 Richmond Rd. – A top-seller along with the legendary Nighthawk Special. White bread layered with sliced turkey breast, ham, creamy cheese sauce, tomato slices and bacon. Served with choice of two sides. $14.99.
Dudley’s on Short
Dudley’s on Short 259 W. Short St. – Turkey, country ham, bacon, and tomato, served over sourdough bread, topped with a white cheddar Mornay sauce. $19.
Great Bagel & Bakery
Great Bagel & Bakery 396 Woodland Ave. or 3650 Boston Rd. – Turkey, bacon, Mornay sauce, tomato and pimento. Served on choice of bagel or house brioche. $9.40.
Hall’s on the River
Hall’s on the River 1225 Athens Boonesboro Rd., Winchester – Kentucky classic served in a piping hot black skillet. Large $15.99, small $12.99.
Josie’s 821 Chevy Chase Pl. – County ham, roasted turkey, bacon, sliced tomato, Parmesan cheese, and Mornay sauce over toast points. Served with a side salad. $16.95.
Lexington Diner 841 Lane Allen Rd. – Turkey, ham, bacon, diced tomato on Texas toast, with gouda Mornay sauce. $16.
LexLive 301 S. Broadway – Smoked turkey, applewood bacon, Mornay, seasonal tomatoes. $13.
Merrick Inn 1074 Merrick Dr. – Turkey, country ham, bacon, tomato slices, Parmesan cheese, and Mornay sauce. Served with two sides. $25.
OBC Kitchen 3373 Tates Creek Rd. – Available for brunch. Smoked turkey breast, applewood smoked bacon, fried green tomatoes, Kentucky artisanal cheeses, on sourdough toast. $16.
Old Vine Bistro
Old Vine Bistro 400 Old Vine St. – The “Derby Bird.” Candied pecan waffle, ham, turkey, bourbon fried chicken, bacon, shredded cheddar, sliced tomato, and Mornay sauce. $30.
Rackhouse Tavern 1375 S. Broadway – Choose from Hot Brown Burger, 8 oz. Angus beef, Mornay, bacon, country ham, turkey, Pecorino Romano cheese, tomato, lettuce, onion, and pickle. Served with fries. Or traditional Hot Brown with roasted turkey, Kentucky country ham, bacon, tomato, and Mornay, on sourdough toast. $19 each.
Ramsey’s Diner 151 W. Zandale, 4053 Tates Creek, 3090 Helmsdale., 4391 Harrodsburg – Available as traditional Hot Brown with turkey and ham, or as Veggie Hot Brown. $14.95 each.
Saul Good Restaurant & Pub
Saul Good Restaurant & Pub 3801 Mall Rd. – A Hot Brown pizza? Yes. A 12” stone-fired pizza topped with creamy Mornay sauce, ham, turkey, bacon, cheddar-jack cheese, and tomatoes. $16.
Shamrock’s Bar & Grille
Shamrock’s Bar & Grille 154 Patchen Dr. or 4750 Hartland Pkwy. – Choice of traditional Hot Brown with ham and turkey, topped with homemade cheese sauce, melted cheddar, tomato and hickory bacon atop two pieces of white toast; or as “Southern Fried Hot Brown,” featuring a fried chicken breast. $12 each.
Southland Bagel 428 Southland Dr. – Ham, turkey, and bacon on choice of bagel with Mornay cream cheese and melted cheddar. Served open-faced. $9.50.
Stella’s Kentucky Deli
Stella’s Kentucky Deli 143 Jefferson St. – Turkey, bacon, tomato, with Mornay sauce, and local sprouts. $11.95. Double meat, $15.95.
Sutton’s Restaurant 110 N. Locust Hill Dr. – Oven-roasted turkey breast served open-faced with a Parmesan cream sauce. Topped with tomato, cheddar, and bacon. $14.
Tack House Pub
Tack House Pub 4401 Harrodsburg Rd. – Sliced ham, turkey, two eggs any style, cheddar cheese, tomato,bacon, homemade Mornay sauce over warm sourdough. $15.50.
The Goose Lexington
The Goose Lexington 170 Jefferson St. – The “Kentucky Hero” sandwich features sliced turkey, country ham, bacon, tomato on a toasted roll, and topped with cheese sauce. $16.99.
Tulip Bistro & Bar
Tulip Bistro & Bar 355 Romany Rd. – The Hot Brown Chicken Roulade appetizer. Chicken breast, country ham, bacon, diced tomatoes, arugula, and Mornay sauce. $15.
Wallace Station 3854 Old Frankfort Pike, Versailles – The “Inside Out Hot Brown” sandwich. Roasted turkey, ham, bacon, tomato, and white cheddar Mornay on choice of bread. Pressed and grilled with butter. Served with chips. $10.99.
Wild Eggs 1925 Justice Dr. or 3735 Palomar Centre Dr. – Toasted sourdough bread, roasted turkey, applewood smoked bacon, diced tomato, white cheddar Mornay, a fried egg and smoked paprika. $12.99.
Winchell’s Restaurant & Sports Bar
Winchell’s Restaurant & Sports Bar 348 Southland Dr. – Available on breakfast menu as “Hot Brown Benedict,” with two English muffins, turkey, sliced tomato, and two eggs any style, topped with Mornay cheese sauce, bacon and Parmesan cheese. $16.99. Or on main menu, with roasted turkey, shaved country ham on toast points, with Mornay cheese sauce, shredded cheddar and Parmesan cheese. Topped with bacon and tomato. Large $18.99, small $14.99.
Windy Corner Market
Windy Corner Market 4595 Bryan Station Rd. – Toasted Midway Bakery white bread open-faced, with roasted turkey, country ham, white cheddar Mornay, Stone Cross Farm bacon and tomato. $16.99.
Zim’s Café 215 W. Main St. – Toasted white bread, sliced roasted turkey, city ham, white cheddar Mornay, Stone Cross Farm bacon, Parmesan cheese and cherry tomatoes, served open-faced. $13.99.
Rob Bolson is a freelance writer residing in Lexington, Kentucky, who writes about food and culture. Follow him on Instagram at @robbiebolson .