On the Road: Hot Brown and Comfort Food

Instant comfort food

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By David Hammond

"We invented the cheeseburger," Louisville Mayor Greg Fisher told me.

That might be true.

Food origins are notoriously difficult to pin down. Still, the facts support that the Hot Brown was invented in Louisville. About the cheeseburger, well, maybe it was invented in Louisville, too.

After a night of "sampling" maybe 20 excellent bourbons and ryes at the Bourbon Classic in Louisville the night before (the Mayor seemed to be holding his own), the Hot Brown seemed so right.

The Hot Brown is a hot mess: buttered toast points, sliced turkey breast, tomatoes, bacon and mornay sauce. It's served in a skillet, and it's commonly found on menus at many Louisville diners.  It was, according to local legend, first served at the Brown Hotel in the mid-1920s, so that's where I had to have it.

The Hot Brown is a formidable dish. My server told me it would take about 15 minutes to make, and it was more like 25, but that was fine -- you want this dish made fresh and right out of the oven. It was delicious, really good, and in every way, comfort food.

One definition of "comfort food" is the food you grew up with, that your mom or dad made for you, and that you associate with home and happiness and security.

In practice, comfort food seems to be characterized by high carbohydrates, high fats, non-aggressive seasoning. Classic comfort foods are food items like mac n' cheese, spaghetti and ramen…no doubt, there are many, many more. 

I don't believe, though, that to be a comfort food the food has to be something you grew up with. I'd never had a Hot Brown, but to me, it was instant comfort food.

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