It’s probably quite premature to say craft beer is over, but stealthily, in the last handful of years, spirits have snuck back in and spoken up, and at the new Cask & Wine pub on Main Street, whiskey is definitely having its day. If you’ve got a hankering for what the Irish reverently call “the water of life” — Uisce Beatha — then Cask & Wine has you covered.
The list includes everything from the whiskey that rapper Grieves passionately refers to as “ice-cold Templeton” — one of the newer breeds of Prohibition-style ryes — to boutique Kentucky labels such as Elijah Craig, to the award-strewn high-concept brand Whistlepig Rye out of Canada, to high-end Scottish stalwarts Glenfiddich and Macallan. Plus many, many more. There’s plenty to pick from on the wine and beer side, too — if you’re into that sort of thing — and the house cocktails are spot on, including an expertly sweet-and-frothy White Russian (not the watered-down version you find elsewhere these days, what with the national palate tipped toward hoppy and bitter).
The space, 536 Main in downtown Hendersonville, has had a spell of bad luck in recent years, with several restaurants being launched — often with great fanfare — and going down just as quickly, often shuttered in just a few months’ time.
In current mode, the room sports an interesting vibe best classified as Goth Deco, with a lot of black paint, black enamel, and chrome complemented by a trendy hammered-aluminum ceiling installed over the bar. The gritty floor tile remains, and one hopes that with the vastly upgraded menu now available — Cask & Wine’s food and drink is frankly terrific — that old floor will someday get a facelift, too. Owner Steven Bivens is a long-time industry professional most recently associated with Carolina Bistro at Cummings Cove Golf & Country Club in Hendersonville.
True appetizers, it seems, have gone out of vogue, and the menu is divided between pub plates and entrées, all of them satisfyingly massive. The Hot Brown, a Louisville-born delicacy, is an open-faced turkey-and-bacon sandwich soaked in white cheese sauce, and Cask & Wine’s version is magnificent. A similar sauce makes the Black Forest Chicken another rich feast; the marinated breast was served with Black Forest ham, mushrooms, and broccolini.
The entree price point is $17-$20, and these dishes come with bread and a big salad, which speaks well of Bivens’ old-school experience, especially since so many other bistros want customers today to pay extra for these touches. And speaking of sides, the smoked-gouda mashed potatoes were, plainly put, just perfect.
The Saturday night that Bold Life visited, something was up, and hospitality at Cask & Main had gone off key. The server seemed annoyed at answering even timidly pitched questions about the menu. By the time she was asked to list off the dessert options, her irritation level had gone off the charts. It’s possible she just couldn’t hear well over the deafening cover band, although plenty of other patrons and waitstaff were visibly grooving to the strains of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” and other emotive nuggets.
But damn if dessert wasn’t delicious. The outrageously thick strawberry cake was served in a huge hunk with two tiers of buttercream frosting. It’s really hard to find a great piece of homemade strawberry cake in a restaurant — just try — and Bivens, on this point, was a prophetic wish fulfiller. With food this good and all that Irish whiskey (and every other kind of whiskey) backing him up, let’s hope the restaurateur can finally break the spot’s bad-luck streak.
Cask & Wine on Main, 536 North Main St., Hendersonville. Open Monday through Saturday, 11am-9pm, and for Sunday brunch, 11am-3pm. Call 828-513-1375 or see Cask & Wine on Facebook for more information.