So yes, it could be said that South Norwood might not be the most attractive section of this southern suburb of Boston, but perhaps it's the overall grittiness of this working-class neighborhood that lends itself to longstanding neighborhood bars and restaurants that feel a bit more "real" than some of the spots on Route 1 and in other parts of town. One prime example of this is a comfortable old place called Cafe Venice, a local hangout in the heart of South Norwood that is part family-friendly restaurant and part well-worn dive bar.
Cafe Venice has a slightly tacky and cheesy exterior that includes shingle that look vaguely Mediterranean and a bright white exterior that includes stonework with graceful arches. The interior of the place is split into two sections; a multi-room dining room that is quite comfortable, with a number of large booths with vinyl couches throughout, while the bar area in the back feels just a bit intimidating at first with its brick walls, lack of windows, slightly claustrophobic overall feel, and the sense that perhaps this is a drinking spot mainly for locals. Diners can order food in both sections, though it is a good idea to call ahead, as the hours for the dining area and the hours for the bar do not always match.
While Cafe Venice is basically an Italian restaurant, the bar side of this dining spot influences the menu a bit. Mixed in with the ravioli, lasagna, and baked schrod are such bar favorites as perfectly-charred steak tips, subs (including a sausage sub and a meatball sub), and, of course, bar pizza (a common item south of Boston). The bar pie is excellent, with a crispy thin crust, a moderately zesty sauce, and lots of flavorful cheese that extends to the very edge of the crust. Other items that can be ordered at Cafe Venice include a thick and tasty clam chowder, a belly-busting chicken parmigiana with a marvelous red sauce, old-fashioned stuffed shells that also come with red sauce (and you may be able to get both the chicken parm and shells together when it is on special), a garlicky shrimp scampi, an old-school pasta plate with Italian sausage, a "queen" or "king" prime rib, and the ever-popular steak venice which includes a 20-ounce center-cut New York sirloin along with peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Don't expect fancy drinks at the Venice, but you will find cheap beer and spirits along with a few decent wine choices, while dessert (if you have room) includes a hot fudge sundae with plenty of whipped cream on top.
While not exactly the same in layout or food, Cafe Venice brings to mind the Pleasant Cafe, a longtime fave in Roslindale that pretty much screams "old Boston." For anyone who is a fan of that and other old-school Italian-American dining spots, it may be worth a trip to the gritty but close-knit neighborhood of South Norwood to check the Venice out.
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