The English Grille at The Brown Hotel, Louisville, Ky.
It’s not often you get to taste a famous creation at the place that is the unquestioned creator of the dish. It’s even rarer that such an event takes place in an atmosphere that is the ultimate in upscale, and rarer still that the atmosphere is inside a hotel.
But that’s exactly the situation at the English Grille inside the Brown Hotel in Louisville, the home of and inventors of the Hot Brown, an open-faced turkey sandwich covered in bacon, cheese and Mornay sauce that has become the signature dish of the largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky since the Brown Hotel created it in 1926.
When you walk into the English Grille, you immediately realize that you’re in a four-star restaurant all the way. I actually found that out the hard way on my trip to Louisville, when I attempted to walk into the English Grille while wearing my standard T-shirt and shorts. Wasn’t going to happen. No pants, no entry into the English Grille. Luckily, at the advice of my wonderful girlfriend Amy McFann (seriously, where would I be without her?), I had packed one pair of pants on my nine-day Southeast expedition, so I headed back to my car, changed clothes and returned to the Brown Hotel.
Once inside, you see why there’s a dress code. I’m not a fashion expert (certainly not anywhere near the level of my friend Courtney), but I’m pretty sure the waiters were all wearing tuxedos. The menu is designed with a leather-like covering, and everything’s written in the fancy print. Put simply, you’re a long way from Applebee’s.
In case the decor and presentation wasn’t enough to alert you to that, the English Grille staff lets you know this place is something special with its free samples. A few minutes after taking my seat and placing my order, a waiter came by with a slice of cucumber, topped with goat cheese, tomato and lemon zest, a complimentary taste from the chef. Upon handing it to you, the waiter informs you that it’s meant to be eaten in one bite to get all the flavors, and it’s certainly a great taste. I’m going to have to make this myself someday, because the ingredients work so well with each other.
Of course, genius that I am, I made a rare mistake and forgot to take a picture of the creation before devouring it. However, the English Grille staff being the helpful people they are (think Jimmy from Mi Nidito), when I explained what I do, the waiter grabbed another one for me.
With the new taste handled, the English Grille follows with an array of bread and butter. Your table is provided with blue Kentucky cornbread, cumin crackers and regular bread, along with three types of spreads: unsalted butter, butter with chives and olive oil mixed with vinaigrette.These are all delicious, but my favorite has to be the cornbread with chive butter. Such a wonderful mix of different flavors that goes down perfectly.
If you remember Lynn’s Paradise Cafe, bread there is also served with two butters and a red condiment. However, my friend and Louisville resident Amber Millay assures me that this is neither a Louisville requirement nor tradition. It is an oddity, but I’m not complaining.
OK, I’ve set the scene well enough. It’s time to bring up the reason people come to the English Grille: the often imitated, never duplicated (their words) Hot Brown, which of course gets its name from the Brown Hotel itself. The sandwich starts with a layer of Texas toast, with one slice on the plate and the other split in half and anchoring both sides of the sandwich. The bread is topped with roasted turkey and tomatoes, then covered with Mornay sauce, a cream-based sauce with cheese mixed in. More Pecorino Romano cheese is added, and the whole thing goes under the broiler to heat up.
Once the sandwich is bubbling, it comes out and bacon is added to it. More cheese gets thrown on the bacon, and dried parsley and paprika are added for the finishing touch. It is wonderful. The bacon, turkey, tomato and cheese work so well with each other, and when combined with the creamy and hot Mornay sauce, it’s no wonder that they claim the Hot Brown has never been duplicated, nor is it any wonder why it has become associated with the city of Louisville.
It seems strange to eat an open-faced sandwich in a place nice enough that it would be the ideal place for a CEO to hold a business meeting or take his wife out for their anniversary. But that’s what happens when you invent something as delicious as the Hot Brown, an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Time to go: Dinner only, as the English Grille is only open from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday through Saturday
Wait during my visit: None. There was plenty of seating in an intimate and classy atmosphere.
Location: The English Grille is inside the historic Brown Hotel, located at 335 W. Broadway in Louisville, Ky.
Cost: Oh boy. You’re paying for the tradition, hospitality, classiness and experience of dining at the English Grille. As such, this will not be anything close to inexpensive. Plan on about $30 a person, but as with Wintzell’s Oyster House, it’s worth it.
Parking: Here’s an adventure. Louisville has a pay lot across from the Brown, but after a certain time, the guard goes home and the lot becomes free. I would not advocate trying this if there’s an event happening, such as a Louisville Cardinals basketball game, but I got free parking. Street parking can be found if the lot isn’t an option.
Website: The Brown Hotel
Specialty items: The Hot Brown