Hotel Review: The Brown Hotel, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.A.

Going Beyond The Hot Brown
by Casey Bowers
Photography by Harry Acosta

What if you weren’t a fan of phenomenally delicious, food coma-inducing sandwiches?

What if your bucket list didn’t include trying the hotel’s signature dish?

What reason would you have to come to The Brown Hotel?

Pick five, add ten more, and you’ll still come up short.

Modern, updated, classic, renovated

From the Grand Lobby with its oversized furnishings, crystal chandeliers, player piano, and cathedral ceilings, The Brown Hotel is a certified, historic American landmark for a reason.

Both its age and history are on full display

Though it is historically the hotspot for patrons, both famous and not-so, during The Kentucky Derby, The Brown delivers a hotel experience for all seasons, and Summer sees a swell of bridal parties come through and celebrate their big days.

Recently renovated and restored to its heyday splendor, this old Kentucky beauty sets the gold standard in first class hospitality and luxe looks.

Old money opulence and new money modern amenities

Mere blocks away from everything and conveniently located on the edge of downtown Louisville, Kentucky, the hottest town in The South right now [See: The Louisville Bourbon Trail, Churchill Downs, Forecastle Festival, vibrant music and art scenes, etc.], The Brown Hotel offers swank surroundings befitting the old monarchs once hosted and the new world royalty of now.

Classic luxury in sight and sound

Those used to luxury travel will find The Brown up to their high standards and those whose stay is a luxury unto itself, will find everything at The Brown to be extraordinary and at a level of service, convenience, and comfort that risks ruining you from hotel travel forever.

Warm and inviting luxurious refuge

Decorated tastefully with equestrian-themed oil paintings and featuring mid-century and contemporary furnishings, the room feels homey yet extravagant. Offering a space larger than most in the same class, the suite boasts an extra large king-size bed with pillows of varying sizes and softness. For this traveler, the piece de resistance are the blackout blinds that let no light escape, ensuring a deep, sound slumber.

Concierge, guest services, and hotel staff are all second to none. Addressing by name, always remembering it, and using it every time.

From the Crystal Ballroom, the rooftop patio and garden, to the Club Lounge and Grand Lobby Bar, The Brown Hotel offers an experience that both equals and surpasses its culinary claim to fame, The Hot Brown.

Beauty in symmetry. Regal design on grand scale.
The space takes an active role in letting you know that you’re in a 4 star hotel

Now, about that Hot Brown…

A Hot Take on The Hot Brown

If you claim you’ve never heard of this dish, I don’t believe you.

So thorough have the marketing efforts been that it would be nearly impossible.

If you hadn’t happened upon an episode highlighting the dish on one of the millions of food and travel shows saturating streaming, cable, basic, or shared social video, you’d still have read about it.

The hype is huge, but even the most contrarian diner will be converted and fall in love with The Hot Brown.

The unsung hero of the dish are the humble yet fresh, red ripe tomatoes, providing the necessary acidity and juicy sweetness to offset the decadent combination of the tender, seasoned turkey, rich velvety mornay sauce, shredded melty goodness of the cheese and oh yes – thick cut bacon. (I’m salivating just thinking about this, remembering every succulent bite.) The thick, buttery bed of Texas toast makes the gastronomic feat of finishing the dish a little bit more challenging, but ensures you will leave full and fully satisfied.

Often imitated, but never matched, The Hot Brown is a Louisville legend and whether you enjoy the open face smothered sandwich at the light and airy J. Graham’s, the cavernous English Grill, or in the privacy of your room, you’ll only find this American classic at The Brown Hotel.

Home of The Hot Brown

Interview with Chef Jim Adams of The Brown

I’d have expected this much knowledge of The Brown Hotel’s history from a media liaison or perhaps the general manager, but not from its Executive chef. It is just another reminder in a long series of similar encounters during my stay at The Brown that emphasizes the hotel’s unique charm and world class hospitality.

Sharing his passion for cooking, the dining experience, and yes, The Brown Hotel itself, Executive Chef Jim Adams  talks with us and walks us through the halls, the history, and the high culinary standards of The Brown Hotel.

On The Hot Brown’s origin

The hotel used to host a Winter Ball around the holiday season and these things would go on into the morning. People dancing, having a good time. These ladies who had been dancing all night were hungry and wanted something from the kitchen but it was 2 a.m., so one of the cooks went back into the kitchen and whipped something up that they just loved – the dish that would become known as The Hot Brown.

On The Hot Brown’s fame

Food and Travel TV amplified that desire when they came here years ago and people saw it on TV. It’s made The Brown Hotel even more of a must-visit destination. People flock here to get it.

Hosting private events for world politicians, Hollywood A-listers and superstar athletes as well as the Louisville social elite

On his background

San Francisco is my hometown, and I started in the industry in the late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s when Neuvo Cuisine -small portions- was really big and then it evolved into California Cuisine.

I worked in New Orleans at The Fairmont Hotel, so coming to The Brown, I knew this world already. I knew the clientele, and exactly what to expect.

On expectations in the kitchen

I’ve passed on really talented people – folks doing amazing things in the kitchen, because they didn’t gel with the team. Chefs just out of school with the latest, greatest equipment will come into our kitchen and be shocked to find they have to mix by hand. There’s no room for hot shots or prima donnas here. Everyone checks their egos at the door when they enter the kitchen.

You will find yourself ogling the historical artifacts from the hotel’s golden era…

On turning the tables on farm to table

Gone are the Steak Tartare and Caviar days. People are looking for innovation in the kitchen – and they want it to be fresh, of the highest quality, and want to know where it comes from.

I want to bring only the best local produce and fish to the plate.

Everyone talks about farm to table, but I like to say, here at The Brown Hotel, we take that commitment to a higher place and guarantee “seed to soil.” We’re Kentucky proud, so you can tell me it’s fresh and organic, no pesticides or hormones, but it better be from local Kentucky farms.

…and marveling at the magnificent architectural details

On the duties as Executive Chef

My charge and what I want to continue doing at every level, be it J. Graham’s, The English Grill, or any other Brown Hotel dining experience, is to deliver that Wow Factor. Whether it’s in a buffet, luncheon presentation, food show, or what have you, this is what I’m here to do. I try to teach the principles of food technology vs. food creativity and train my chefs to not only care about what they do at the center of the plate, but to elevate the whole experience for our guests. We want to only create dishes that we’re most proud of, dishes our guests will love, and dishes that are unexpected.