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 is 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 place called Cafe Venice, a local hangout in the heart of South Norwood that is part family-friendly restaurant and part well-worn 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; the dining room is fairly comfortable, with a number of large booths with vinyl couches, while the bar area in the back feels a bit intimidating at first, with its brick walls, lack of windows, and slightly claustrophobic overall feel. 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 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. Appetizers include a thick and tasty clam chowder and a decent house salad. Other items that can be ordered at Cafe Venice include an outstanding beef stew that is chock full of carrots, potatoes, and gravy, as well as fried clams, prime rib, chicken, and scallops.
While not exactly the same in layout or food, Cafe Venice brings to mind the Highland Cafe, a longtime favorite of Boston's Hidden Restaurants that made its home in Malden but is sadly no longer in existence. The Highland may be closed, but it is nice to see that there are other townie joints in the Boston area such as Cafe Venice that can take up the slack. For anyone who is a fan of old-school Italian-American dining spots, it may be worth a trip to the gritty but close-knit neighborhood of South Norwood to check this place out.
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