If you’re ever down in Kentucky—and really, why would you be?—you’ll hear prideful stories about a mythical dish that is as popular as their bourbon and baseball bats, the Hot Brown.
Not to be confused with Oklahoma’s own delicious dish Sweet Brown—as I was consistently asking when inquiring about the meal to various townies that weekend—this Dixie-fied delicacy seems like it should be a bodacious backwoods Okie treat, but after sampling it, thank the Lord it ain’t.
From what I originally understood, it’s basically a pile of ham and turkey on a slice of greasy bread, covered in country cream gravy and then, in a mocking fashion, suffocated under nearly a pound of melted cheese. If that doesn’t make your arteries ache with the loss of God, then a cross of bacon is added to the top, presumably to take you into the afterlife…
I had heard about this place around Lexington called Ramsey’s, a local favorite that supposedly serves the best Hot Browns—as best as they can be, I suppose—to a Southern populace that is craving this methodical madness.
The diner itself seems to be pieced together from various bits of tin, fiberboard and stucco, but it truly had a homey feel that wouldn’t be out of place around here. Settling down into the furniture that looked to have been hand-painted by children, after a quick glance at their menu, I ordered the traditional Hot Brown ($10.95) while my girlfriend, ever the health nut, ordered the Veggie Hot Brown ($10.95), a somewhat healthier take on this culinary mishmash.
The place was packed with everyone from local businessmen enjoying a lunch to area barflies falling asleep in their beer, a true cultural crosscut that, sadly, you wouldn’t see at an Oklahoma City eatery. Souvenir shirts, stapled to the wall, were for sale and I almost bought one when our Hot Browns arrived, giving off their ribald steam of forgetfulness.
Exactly how I pictured it, it was a big plate of obnoxious yellow cheese dripping down the sides of the plate, a swath of bacon marking its territory across the top. As I used my fork to cut into its flesh, the white gravy effortlessly seeped out of the cheese like an open wound. Apparently some variations of this recipe call for hollandaise sauce, but even I’m not that fancy and neither is Ramsey’s.
With a well-proportioned utensil that had a good amount of cheese, gravy and meat on it, as I swallowed my bit of the Hot Brown, I was thoroughly surprised how well the mixture worked; the cheese and gravy were the best of friends, but it was the ham and turkey that were the old battle buddies, sharing war stories in a seedy local tavern.
That being said, I could only manage a few large bites until I realized I didn’t want to die in Lexington, Kentucky today over a plate of melted cheese.
But probably the most dangerous middle finger to rampant vegetarianism is the Veggie Hot Brown. Healthy-enough vegetable staples such as asparagus, mushrooms and tomatoes, all served on top of whole wheat bread, of course, are then absolutely smothered in the most melted of mozzarella cheese. If that wasn’t enough, by God, it’s then liberally topped with parmesan cheese and, to add insult to injury, an x-formation of zucchini strips.
That being said, I thought this veg-head variation tasted a whole lot better than my traditional dish, with a wholly unique taste that wasn’t afraid to please the overweight vegetarian in all of us. And while I’m sure if either of these Browns were brought to Oklahoma, they’d be the top of the pops for a while, with all of our chicken-fried eats and gravy-smothered edibles, we don’t need another greasy nail in our collective coffins.
Unless, of course, Sweet Brown slaps her name on one, in which case I will always have time for that.