Back in the 1920s, a chef named Fred Schmidt was working at Louisville’s Brown Hotel. The hotel routinely drew over 1,200 guests for its nightly dinner dances. After dancing the night away, guests would make their way to the hotel’s restaurant in the early morning hours in search of something to eat.
The chef understood this was not a garden variety ham-and-eggs crowd, but one seeking bites of a more sophisticated nature. So he set out to create something new and glamorous to tempt his guests’ taste buds. His recipe of an open-faced turkey sandwich – crowned with bacon, ladled over with a delicate Mornay sauce, sprinkled with parmesan and then broiled until bubbly – gave birth to one of Kentucky’s most famous dishes: the legendary Hot Brown.
Variations of the original recipe include serving ham along with the turkey, adding garnishes of tomato and mushroom, and smothering it in a variety of cheeses. Purists may snub any sauce but the classic Mornay, home cooks may throw in whatever cheese they have on hand – but no matter how it is served, the Hot Brown is a darling among Kentucky’s signature dishes
So beloved is the Hot Brown, in fact, that it provides the theme of one of the Bluegrass state’s 11 designated culinary trails. Culinary explorers can map out their own mini-Hot Brown Trail in Shelbyville and Simpsonville, where several restaurants serve up their own take on this sauced up showstopper – and deliciously so: