Louisville is known for several signature dishes, from the savory Hot Brown to the whitefish sandwich. Follow them up with a slice of Derby Pie®, wash it down with a Mint Julep, and a menu of favorites from this Ohio River city is complete.
Take some sliced turkey, Roma tomatoes, Mornay sauce, cheese and bacon, work some culinary magic, and you've got the Hot Brown – one of Louisville's most notable culinary claims to fame. The mouthwatering Hot Brown dates back to the Roaring '20s at The Brown Hotel, which is located at 4th and Broadway and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Couples who danced the night away at the hotel worked up quite an appetite. In an effort to create some out-of-the-ordinary fare for them, Chef Fred Schmidt came up with the Hot Brown and the rest is history. Known worldwide and in demand year-round, the popular open-faced sandwich never fails to please.
While there are no hard statistics to explain Louisville's ranking among inland cities for fish consumption, it's generally accepted that Louisville has one of the highest per capita fish consumption rates in the country.
Since the early 1900s, the fried fish sandwich has been a staple on Louisville restaurant menus - from neighborhood dives to swanky social clubs. There are many theories surrounding the city's fishy infatuation. Some say it's because of Louisville's large Catholic population (one-third of the city is of Catholic faith) and the "meatless Friday" tradition. Others trace the sandwich's rise in popularity to Leo Weil, an entrepreneur and Louisville legend who became the nation's first distributor of Icelandic cod, earning him the nickname "the Codfather."
Today, a host of eateries pay homage to the tasty tradition. The largest is the locally owned fast-food seafood chain Moby Dick. It's been said that if you lined up every fish fillet Moby Dick sells in a year, they would stretch more than 500 miles.
If Moby Dick is the largest, then Mike Linning's is the most historic of Louisville's fish-inspired restaurants. More than eight decades ago when he was selling fruit and produce at a roadside stand, the original Mike Linning became one of Weil's first clients. That roadside stand is now a booming business known for its inviting outdoor patio shaded by Kentucky elm.
To satisfy a diner's sweet tooth, there really isn't any other choice but Derby-Pie®, which originated at the Melrose Inn in Prospect, Ky. The recipe for the chocolate-walnut concoction is a closely guarded secret.
The name of the pie, which was actually drawn out of a hat, is registered with the U.S. Patent Office and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It is exclusively baked and distributed by Kern's Kitchen Inc. The Kern family operated the inn, and George Kern, son of the original owners, developed the recipe for the pie. Available at restaurants and specialty outlets locally, Derby-Pie® can also be shipped anywhere.
Aside from the elegant horses, the Mint Julep is probably one of the best-known traditions of May's Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
The blend of mint, spring water, sugar, crushed ice and bourbon, is a salute to the Derby-winning horse (although the salutes usually begin well before the race is run). Purists insist that Mint Juleps are best served in a silver cup. Legendary statesman Henry Clay brought the Mint Julep from the Commonwealth to his colleagues in Washington, D.C., when he began his service in Congress in the 19th century.
The bourbon is one of Kentucky's proud products, the silver julep cups are a longstanding tradition and the tale is told that mint was planted outside Churchill Downs so the beverage could be offered at the first Kentucky Derby in 1875.
Try These At Home
Hot Brown (from The Brown Hotel)
Makes 2 sandwiches
2 ounces whole butter
2 ounces all-purpose flour
1 quart heavy cream
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, plus 1 Tablespoon for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
14 ounces sliced roasted turkey breast
2 slices Texas toast, crusts trimmed
4 slices crispy bacon
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced in half
In a two-quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined and a thick paste (roux) forms. Continue to cook roux for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk whipping cream into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about two or three minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in Pecorino Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
For each Hot Brown, place one slice of toast in an oven-safe dish and cover with seven ounces of turkey. Take the two halves of Roma tomato and set them alongside the base of turkey and toast. Next, pour one-half of the Mornay sauce to completely cover the dish. Sprinkle with additional Pecorino Romano cheese. Place the entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove from broiler, cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top, sprinkle with paprika and parsley.
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Sprigs of fresh mint
Early Times Kentucky Whiskey
Silver Julep Cups
Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Early Times Kentucky Whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.
Still hungry? Find more great eats in Louisville.