You know where to look for a burger. But how about the joint that invented them? Or the places that originated the Cobb salad? Waldorf salad? French dip? Banana’s Foster?
Tell you in a minute.
For now, let’s talk about the hot brown. Never heard of it? Then you haven’t spent much time around Louisville, Kentucky – proud home of this regional invention. This quirky sandwich — a testament to American culinary ingenuity, a variation of Welsh rarebit, was created at the Brown Hotel in Louisville in 1926. And since I was in town, I stopped by to get a taste of the original.
I also felt compelled to sample the other local invention – bourbon – so my recollection of the meal could be slightly blurred. But I will say, both the dish and its history are worth a second look.
The Brown Hotel used to attract 1,200 guests a night for its dinner dances in the 1920’s. They partied well beyond 1:00 a.m. with a midnight band break that left folks looking for a bite – usually ham and eggs.
That all changed when the hotel chef created an open-faced turkey sandwich with Mornay sauce – a novelty at a time when turkey was generally served only at Thanksgiving and Christmas. To separate the hot brown from the usual holiday meal, they added bacon, tomatoes and pimiento and slid it under the broiler. It still is one of the signature dishes of Kentucky — the mother of all open-faced, hot turkey sandwiches complete with bacon and garnish — especially tasty, I should add, after a couple bourbons. (For a Hot Brown recipe click on “recipes” at the top of the home page.)
The dining room at the Brown Hotel – called the English Grill – is also worth a visit. The white tablecloths and paneled walls and ceiling easily evoke the old days of dance bands and tradition.
As for the other American inventions: the first burger was reputedly served at Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut; the Cobb salad was created at the long-departed Brown Derby restaurant on Wilshire in Los Angeles in the late 1920’s. You probably got the Waldorf salad – from the Waldorf Astoria in New York in the 1890’s. Bananas Foster began at Brennan’s in New Orleans. And the French dip? From France? Only if you think the scenery around the old train station in downtown Los Angeles looks Parisian. The dip actually started at Philippe. For more about this old hangout, go to www.atlarrys.com