Hometown Hungers: Best Hot Browns Outside of Kentucky

No need to book a trip to the Bluegrass State to bite into Kentucky's signature dish. These hopping spots across the country are turning out their own spins on the sauce-drenched turkey sandwich.

Photo By: Photographer:Tim Moxley ©Tim Moxley 2016

A Stepped-Up Sandwich

Few sandwiches boast such an alluring history as the Hot Brown. This culinary creation tumbled out of a prestigious hotel kitchen in the midst of the Roaring '20s as a way to satiate the appetites of the party set. Chef Fred Schmidt of the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, created the indulgent dish as a practical solution for feeding the hundreds of attendees who flocked to the legendary dance parties held there. He concocted the hot, open-faced sandwich with just a handful of ingredients (brioche bread, turkey, bacon and tomatoes), then cloaked the creation in a silky Mornay sauce made from Pecorino Romano, butter, cream and nutmeg. Ninety years later, the Brown Hotel is still turning out the sandwich, which is now a menu mainstay at restaurants across the country. Read on to find out where to score the most-coveted spins on Kentucky’s signature sandwich. Photography courtesy of Noble Crust

Rebellion, Washington, D.C.

Rebellion, a cozy bar in the heart of Washington, D.C., draws the crowds with its dazzling selection of 300-plus whiskies and Southern-inflected food menu to match. But until he had a chef and a smoker in place, Travis Weiss, Rebellion’s director of culinary concepts, refused to serve a Hot Brown. Taking the time to do it right has most definitely paid off, as the wait is over and the resulting sandwich is a stunner. The star of Rebellion’s hand-held, multinapkin sandwich is undoubtedly the turkey. Locally sourced birds are brined in beer and herbs for 48 hours, coated with a house BBQ rub, smoked low and slow, then thinly sliced and piled onto griddled Lyon Bakery sourdough bread. The dish gets next-level gourmet treatment with a supporting cast of toppings, including heirloom tomatoes, North Country Smokehouse bacon and a triple-cheese, jalapeno-spiked Mornay sauce. Photography courtesy of Rebellion

Go to: Rebellion

Dram, Birmingham, Alabama

Dram may be a bourbon bar located in Alabama, but its soul belongs to Kentucky. The rough-hewn beams are from an old Kentucky tobacco barn, there are photos of Churchill Downs lining the wall, and the menu is chock-full of classics from the Bluegrass State … including the Hot Brown, of course. As a Kentucky native and Hot Brown purist, owner Tom Shaffer has kept the original recipe intact, which means his version is made with house-roasted turkey, toast points, smoky Broadbent country bacon (shipped in from western Kentucky), fresh tomatoes and house Mornay sauce. Shaffer holds true to tradition right down to the dish’s preparation and presentation. “The whole thing is then browned in the oven and served truly piping hot in a distinctive shallow bowl with a long handle like a skillet,” he says. “The presentation does the dish justice, as we use that vessel for the Hot Brown and nothing else.” Photography courtesy of Allison Sheffer

Go to: Dram

Artisan, Paso Robles, California

When Chef/Co-Owner Chris Kobayashi started locally sourcing turkey from Sonoma County at his farm-to-fork restaurant, he contemplated the addition of a new menu item that would showcase the bird. After his cousin raved about a must-have dish he tried at The Brown Hotel, Chef Kobayashi was inspired to expand Artisan’s brunch offerings to include a Hot Brown. True to Chef Kobayashi’s ethos, the knife-and-fork sandwich features impeccably sourced ingredients. Along with the house-roasted turkey, there’s nitrate-free bacon from cult purveyor Vande Rose, griddled local beefsteak tomatoes, organic-cheddar Mornay sauce and a farm-fresh sunny-side-up egg, all tucked into a house-baked croissant. “Being a Sunday brunch dish, this is a real hangover cure,” says Chef Kobayashi. “Depending on how much fun you had last night, it pairs really well with a Bloody Mary; however, for more civilized folk, a nice mimosa pairs well too.” Photography courtesy of Artisan

Go to: Artisan

Noble Crust, St. Petersburg, Florida

Executive Chef Rob Reinsmith may be known for turning out a stellar menu of Italian favorites shot through with Southern soul, but that doesn’t mean this Florida native has left the beloved Southern standards behind. The Hot Brown, for instance, has proven to be an ideal addition to Noble Crust’s brunch selection. “Being a classic Southern comfort food, the Kentucky Hot Brown fits in great with the rest of our brunch menu,” Chef Reinsmith says. “It is the equivalent to the bacon cheeseburgers we eat today after a long night of fun … it just helps us feel better the next morning.” His version has a subtle Italian accent in the form of Parmesan-and-garlic ciabatta, which comes heaped with black-pepper-and-honey-glazed turkey breast, a traditional cheddar Mornay sauce, applewood-smoked bacon and heirloom tomatoes. Pro tip: Round out the meal with a watermelon salad or a side of braised greens. Photography courtesy of Noble Crust

Go to: Noble Crust

Bar Americain, New York City

Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain may look like a European brasserie, but the menu is distinctly American. Chef Flay gleans culinary inspiration from across the States, but Kentucky holds a certain sway over him. “As a thoroughbred owner and racing enthusiast, I spend a lot of time in Kentucky. The food and people are near and dear to my heart, and this sandwich, whose birthplace was the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, just has to be on any menu that celebrates the classic cuisine of this country,” says Chef Flay. He’s stayed true to the original recipe, for the most part, but puts his own spin on it by layering bacon (from Kentucky’s Colonel Newsom’s), turkey and bechamel on top of savory French toast and pulling in umami-rich, oven-roasted tomatoes. The chef is such a fan of the sandwich that he included it in his Bobby Flay's Bar Americain Cookbook. Photography by Ben Fink, courtesy of Boy Meets Grill, Inc. Copyright © 2011

Go to: Bar Americain (New York City, NY)

The Pullman, Atlanta

“I put our Hot Brown on the menu because, quite frankly, I love a good Hot Brown,” says Executive Chef Thomas Humphries of The Pullman, who takes a decidedly gourmet approach to the dish. He starts with hearty pieces of roasted, sorghum-glazed turkey breast, which he tosses in bacon jam and then heaps atop toasted H&F Bread Co.’s Southern sandwich bread. Next comes ladleful upon ladleful of sawmill gravy (a traditional Southern white gravy with a heavy dose of black pepper) and a crown of locally grown tomatoes. Chef Humphries tops his creation with applewood-smoked bacon and local cheddar cheese, then finishes it under the broiler until bubbly. Insider tip: Pair this Kentucky-inspired sandwich with some Georgia suds, such as a hoppy stout from Burnt Hickory Brewery (The Pullman devotes half its taps to local craft beers). Photography courtesy of Tim Moxley

Go to: The Pullman

Village Whiskey, Philadelphia

Though the gourmet burgers dominate the buzz around this Philadelphia hot spot, the Kentucky Hot Brown is definitely the sleeper hit at Chef Jose Garces’ Village Whiskey. After trying the original sandwich at the Brown Hotel, Chef Garces fell in love with the Hot Brown, so much so that he created an elevated version that has garnered a devoted following of its own. Chef Garces lines a cast-iron dish with a slice of toasted brioche, pieces of confit duck leg and Mornay sauce, then layers on slice upon slice of turkey breast that has been cooked sous vide with foie gras cream. He garnishes the creation with applewood-smoked bacon, sliced cherry tomatoes and shredded Gruyère. Just like the original, it’s the ideal dish for sopping up booze, should you choose to indulge in the gastropub’s extensive beverage menu. Photography courtesy of Village Whiskey

Go to: Village Whiskey

Beatrice & Woodsley, Denver

At Denver hot spot Beatrice & Woodsley, the menu is peppered with dishes inspired by Old World European cuisine and the American South. For Executive Chef Travis Messervey, the Hot Brown is a perfect representation of both. When it first appeared on the brunch menu in the guise of the Open Face Ham Sami, Chef Messervey’s interpretation looked a lot like a traditional Hot Brown. However, the dish has evolved with the seasons and Chef Messervey’s whims. House-smoked ham, Mornay sauce and toasted sourdough make up the foundation, but English pea puree and a bright salsa verde are pulled in during the summer months. And once the temperatures start to dip, the Mornay sauce gets switched out for a meatier addition, such as a Creole-inspired crawfish and sausage fondue. In true brunch fashion, the open-face, knife-and-fork sandwich is capped with a sunny-side-up egg. Photography courtesy of B Public Relations

Go to: Beatrice & Woodsley

Dave’s Country Kitchen at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park, Charleston, South Carolina

Stadiums have been stepping up their food game, and it’s not just the major league ballparks that have gotten in on the action. At “The Joe,” home to minor league team the Charleston RiverDogs, a lineup of elevated eats stretches beyond basic stadium fare. Dave’s Country Kitchen, for instance, features a roster of American classics imbued with a hefty dose of Charleston flair. The fan favorite is definitely the Chucktown Hot Brown. This heavily tweaked take on the traditional sandwich stars a grilled shrimp cake atop Texas toast, a blanket of queso blanco cheese sauce, jalapeno-infused bacon and a duo of fresh and pickled tomatoes. The dish might sound like a knife-and-fork affair, but you can actually fold the toast over and eat it with your hands, thanks to a slight cut across the bread. Pro tip: Knock it out of the park with a peach moonshine margarita. Photography courtesy of Josh Shea

Go to: Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park

Derby Bar & Grill, Chicago

Derby Bar & Grill lives up to its namesake by honoring the Bluegrass State’s finest exports: bourbon, Southern hospitality and the Hot Brown. Served as a signature dish, the sandwich features thick-cut, griddled Texas toast piled high with shaved hickory-smoked turkey breast, honey-cured ham and applewood-smoked bacon. The whole lot is smothered with homemade Parmesan-and-smoked-Gouda Mornay sauce, topped with oven-dried tomatoes and broiled until golden and gooey. “The Kentucky Hot Brown is such a soul-warming comfort food it's always a little more popular in the winter months, when people need some extra love to get them through the cold Chicago days,” Chef Jim Heflin says. “And of course, it becomes its own celebrity when the Derby rolls around. We proudly feature it, and unlike the horseraces themselves, it never disappoints.” Photography courtesy of Derby Bar & Grill

Go to: Derby Bar & Grill