J. Graham’s Cafe is in the Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville. One of several restaurants in the hotel they are the ‘light and airy’ one. They are famous for the “Hot Brown” which was invented there in 1926 and has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NBC’s Today Show and many other media outlets. In the 1920s The Brown Hotel regularly had over 1,200 guests every evening for its dinner dance. As the guests grew tired and hungry they wanted something glamorous to eat and Chef Fred Schmidt created the open-face turkey sandwich he called the Hot Brown. The Cafe is on the first floor of the hotel and if you dine there you are given 2 hours free valet parking, which is nice in the busy downtown. The room had windows looking out to the street which provided much natural light, bare wood tables, carpet, walls decorated with poster art and nicely padded seats and benches. A full bar is available. Service was a tad pushy, trying to upsell a bit and not particularly attentive but there were enough service people you didn’t get forgotten. The sandwich is an icon so I had to try it.
The Turkey Club sandwich came on 2 slices of brioche bread and included tomato, crispy bacon, Bibb lettuce, Swiss cheese, sliced turkey breast, and smokey aioli and was served with French fries or sweet potato tots. We chose the fries but should have gone for the tots. The fries were limp and mostly tasteless. The Club sandwich was excellent, though. The bread was nicely fresh and the bacon was filled with flavor. The turkey was moist and plentiful but well-balanced with the other ingredients.
The Hot Brown comes in 2 sizes, I ordered the Petite and after ordering found it takes 15-20 minutes. The moist turkey is on Texas Toast (thick-cut brioche bread) and topped with bacon, Mornay sauce, Pecorino Romano Cheese, tomato and Parmesan cheese. The thick slice of turkey was on the toast and drenched with the wonderful Mornay sauce. The cheese was shredded and sprinkled on top in addition to some cheese incorporated into the pile. The tomato was mostly forgettable but the bacon added a nice flavor. I’m glad I tried it, but once around will do me.
Derby Pie was the original from Kern’s Kitchen made here since 1968. It was a walnut and chocolate chip pie and came in 2 pieces surrounded by fruit and squirt bottle action. The pie itself was fine but the fruit was mostly dry and tasteless. The pie reminded me of pecan but not nearly as sweet and of course had walnuts instead of pecans. The chocolate chips somehow stayed unmelted in the interior. A dollop of whipped cream filled out the plate but you really didn’t need it either. The pie was a good sweet fix but their presentation left a lot to be desired.