There’s a stagey little archway — something like a wedding gazebo, but with a neoclassical flourish — that separates the front room of The Loft Cafe & Pub, with its handsome wraparound bar and live-music setup, from the restaurant’s more spacious back region. The larger room houses deep booths and multiple flat-screen TVs that were flashing bits of seasonal basketball games, plus the end of the Winter Olympics, on a recent warm Friday night in February.
Since the Loft is, in fact, a flat-roofed one-level building with no apparent upper regions, it’s possible that the name conveys the elevation of food and atmosphere that occurred when the bar and restaurant evolved, a few years ago, from its former incarnation. Owner Dianne Trice accomplished an impressive turnaround, though she’s a hands-on kind of entrepreneur who can still be found pitching in to wait on tables.
A high point of the place is the friendly portion-to-price ratio. The menu, presided over by head chef Brant Wehde with assistant chefs Tabatha Cooper and Logan Parish, goes big on hearty fare, with just enough attention to trends to stay in the game without danger of becoming precious. Caprese salad, check; grilled panini, check; cute appetizers including stuffed mini pretzels; check; giant spinach salad; check; specialty flatbread pizzas including the Margherita and a luscious white pie with three kinds of cheese and fresh basil; check. (Seasonal specials are added when local farms begin to produce.)
Everything is generously plated, and it’s hard to go wrong with these by-now-standard twists on Italian-American cuisine. The bonafide classic, though, is the house lasagna — a satisfying heap of meat, cheese, noodles, and marinara sauce that overflows its ramekin as though to prove some pride of position. Fish & Chips was the special, the Northeastern/Midwestern culture of Friday-night fish fries having by now infiltrated a majority of pubs across America. Except here, the fish on Friday is served all day, and there’s often one or two additional seafood specials, too (shrimp and tilapia, for instance).
A distinct lack of formality coats the space. The service is laconic, no matter how hot the rush. Even on a first visit, it’s apparent that the Loft’s vibe nurtures regulars. This is not a place one quickly dips in and out of. Prepare to stay awhile and enjoy the relaxed ambience — including, on select nights, the well-honed chops of local band Fine Line.
Fluent in all the mid-tempo-rock standards, the band won major points for coolly acknowledging a song request that a bar patron made seemingly to throw the group off kilter. Coming off a string of Tom Petty covers that he introduced with some emotion, given the classic rocker’s recent demise, lead singer Paul Liford launched into the asked-for tune — the Violent Femmes’ naughty gem “Add It Up,” from 1983 — as though nothing at all were amiss. Liford deftly omitted all the song’s vulgarities and transformed the whole thing into a rather fascinating hybrid of a love-gone-wrong lament and a gospel hosanna. No problem at all.
The Loft Café & Pub, 111 Joel Wright Drive, Hendersonville. Open Monday through Saturday, 11am-10pm. For more information, call 828-595-9997 or see the restaurant’s Facebook page.