Louisville, Kentucky, Lou-Ah-Vull to the locals, is packed with cultural, sport, and food surprises steeped in tradition.
Museums, arts centers, and sports history share the downtown stage. Mohammed Ali was born and raised in Louisville. Films and memorabilia in The Mohammed Ali Center tell his story – from childhood to captivating international spokesman. The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory is home to the World’s Biggest Bat. A 120-foot tall, 68,000-pound steel bat lures photographers, baseball fans, and visitors to Main Street and Museum Row. The gargantuan bat is a replica of Babe Ruth’s 34-inch Louisville Slugger.
The Kentucky Derby, the race of thoroughbred horses, has run in Louisville every consecutive year since 1875. The mint julep, a cocktail consisting of bourbon, fresh mint, sugar, and water is a part of Derby ritual, as are ladies’ elaborate hats. Kentucky bourbon, the unique American spirit, originated with early settlers who transformed indigenous corn into a native spirit over 200 years ago. Louisville Stoneware, a company that transforms up-to-250-million-year-old clay into versatile, functional art turned 200 in 2015. Tea pots, china, and one-of-a-kind pieces reflect American history. Created to last a lifetime, many are collector’s items.
Louisville traditions extend to food as well. Many of them are popular at derby time. Like the mint julep, Chocolate-Walnut Derby Pie contains Kentucky bourbon. Rolled Oyster is three raw oysters dipped in an egg, milk, and cornmeal batter before being rolled in cracker crumbs and dropped into a deep fryer. It’s a baseball size dish. Henry Bain Sauce is a sweet-sour-spicy condiment for meat and Benedictine, a cucumber and cream cheese spread, most often served on finger sandwiches. A candy made with marshmallow, The Modjeska, is finished with a dip into liquid caramel.
The Hot Brown is a popular open-faced sandwich. Most restaurants in Louisville, and outlying areas, put their own twist on the original recipe. Menus offer variations like the Brown Derby, the Hot Brown Florentine, the Seafood Hot Brown, and the Baby Hot Brown.
Fred K. Schmidt created the original Hot Brown at the Louisville Brown Hotel. In 1926, the chef was desperate for an alternative to the ham and egg suppers he was serving hungry late night revelers. He smothered sliced turkey with a rich cheese sauce, added sprinkles of Parmesan cheese, bacon, and pimento and tucked it under the broiler.
This is a slightly healthier version of the original Hot Brown made with milk instead of heavy cream.
LOUISVILLE OPEN-FACED HOT BROWN
(Makes 2 large servings)
2 ½ tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 cups milk
⅛ teaspoon white pepper
1 ½ cups grated mild cheddar cheese
2 large slices sourdough bread
8 ounces thinly sliced smoked turkey
6 slices crisp cooked bacon, chopped small
2 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped small
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour, whisking constantly until smooth.
Continue to whisk while slowly adding the milk. Place the saucepan back over medium heat. Whisk constantly until the sauce is thicken and the flour is cooked.
Stir in the white pepper and grated cheddar cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted.
If the cheese sauce is too thick, add milk 2 tablespoons at a time.
Toast the sourdough bread.
Divide and layer the turkey slices evenly over the slices of toast.
Spoon the cheese sauce over the sliced turkey.
Top the cheese sauce with the chopped bacon and chopped tomato.
Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the bacon and tomato.