I absolutely love that there’s a traditional plate of food which is actually, officially, hilariously named “hot brown.” I love it for so many reasons. Let’s leave aside any obvious comparisons to a “dutch oven,” a “philly steamer,” or a “rusty trombone.” …yeah, no, let’s not bring up those things at all… let’s just say that I love the name “hot brown” because it is a super-basic, two-word description of the actual plate of food, which is literally hot, and brown. It’s like calling a hamburger, a “meat circle,” or calling a hot dog a “long pink.” I love it. I love it. I Love love love it! It’s just fun to say…
Just in case you don’t know what hot brown is, here’s the definition from Wikipedia:
A Hot Brown Sandwich (sometimes known as a Kentucky Hot Brown) is an American hot sandwich originally created at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, by Fred K. Schmidt in 1926. It is a variation of traditional Welsh rarebit and was one of two signature sandwiches created by chefs at the Brown Hotel shortly after its founding in 1923. The Hot Brown is an open-faced sandwich of turkey and bacon, covered in Mornay sauce and baked or broiled until the bread is crisp and the sauce begins to brown. Many Hot Browns also include ham with the turkey, and either pimentos or tomatoes over the sauce
I first ate hot brown in Louisville, where there were literally signs in almost every restaurant’s window that said “We Serve Hot Brown.” After seeing the fifth sign, I stopped taking pictures. High-fucking-larious. I didn’t know what it was, so I looked it up. It sounded great, so I picked a restaurant, ate some, and loved it! When I came back to Asheville, I didn’t see it on any menu anywhere UNTIL…
Tadaaaaahhh! Hot brown, my friends… hot brown.
Who: Blackbird Cafe! Now, you guys all know that I wrote a horrid review of a slice of coconut cake at Blackbird almost a year ago, but that was then and this is now. The difference being a new owner at Blackbird, which makes sense, because I just KNEW that piece of cake was a “top down” issue. For real. Since the new owner — Jesson Gil — arrived, the cake is all good, and the menu is more interesting, and tasty.
What: “Asheville Hot Brown” is the name on the menu, and it consists of house baked bread, topped with thick cut turkey, house bacon, tomato slices, and traditional mornay sauce, which is a creamy, cheesy béchamel Gruyere sauce. It is served sizzlin’ hot in an oblong iron skillet. It’s not pretty, but that’s the nature of a dish of hot brown. It ain’t winning any beauty contests, but it is a beautiful thing to eat.
Where: Right downtown! Blackbird is an independently owned restaurant located in the corner of the Aloft Hotel, across Biltmore Ave from Chestnut, and across Aston St. from the Double Decker Bus. The large windows offer a nice view of the bustling sidewalks. It’s a fun place to grab a bite. In the nice weather the windows are wide open, making for some nearly outdoor indoor seating.
Why: Someone told me that Blackbird had hot brown on the menu, so I made a beeline there as fast as I could. After eating — and immensely enjoying — their version of this American classic, I talked to Chef Mike Reppert, who told me that he added it because it’s one of his favorites, and because Jesson allows him to make regular changes to the menu, and experiment by introducing new dishes. See? Top-down. It makes a difference.
When: Luuuuuunch! I lerv lernch. You all know that. I eat the shit outta lunch, and now that hot brown is on the lunch menu at Blackbird, I’ll be going there for lunch with some regularity. No shit, I was craving it again the very next day.
Regular customers are won over in restaurants across the country every day by adding one new dish, because a chef was given a chance. The Blackbird has made a very wise move in my opinion, by adding Asheville hot brown to their menu. I’ve mentioned it to a few people since eating it, and they have either never heard of it, or they have eaten before, and LOVE it. It might take a little bit to catch on, but this is a dish that has a lot of potential to develop a loyal following. It’s a wonderful, comforting, filling, and satisfying local take on an American classic, and like I said, it’s fun to say! Thank you for the hot brown, Blackbird, it was awesome, I loved it, and it is my…
The Blackbird Cafe
“Refined Southern choice serving creative upmarket plates in minimalist surrounds with a full bar.”
47 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: (828) 254-2502
Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.
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