There is something about an otherwise nondescript restaurant that has a well-worn and comfortable feel, much like that of an old shoe. Often these places are real "townie" spots that are regular hangouts for local residents, with some of them being in areas that are far enough away from major highways and large cities to keep them mostly from the public eye. One such spot, called the Venus Cafe, can be found in the old factory town of Whitman, about 25 miles south of downtown Boston, and this restaurant is typical of many South Shore watering holes in that it features a mostly regional food item known as bar pizza.
Located across the street from the hulking town hall building in the center of town, the Venus Cafe is one of several little-known dining and drinking establishments in and around Whitman's downtown area. The building in which it is housed is a rather drab brick and wooden structure that gives it the look of a sports pub or a dive bar, with the latter probably being a bit more accurate. Much like other bar pizza spots, including the Lynwood Cafe in Randolph and Poopsie's in Pembroke, the Venus gets its atmosphere from both the characters who frequent the place and the old-school vibe from its dining room and bar, both of which would probably look more natural with a haze of stagnant cigarette smoke in the air. The bar side to the left at the Venus is long and narrow, with booths along the wall opposite the bar itself, while the dining room features old-looking carpeting, wood-paneled walls, recessed lighting, and a mix of booths and tables (including round tables for larger groups).
The Venus Cafe is all about two things: Bar pizza and cheap beer. Sure, it has a few other items on the menu (including a decent Greek salad that sometimes disturbingly comes in a plastic container even if you are dining in), but diners mainly come here to grab some bar pie and a few cold drafts (or bottles). The Venus serves up your quintessential South Shore bar pizza, with a slightly pliable cracker-like crust, a rich tomato sauce with herbs and spices, and a greasy and golden brown cheese topping that extends to the edge of the crust. Options for toppings here are almost staggering, ranging from such stalwarts as pepperoni pizza (with very large discs of pepperoni) and meatball pizza to good mixes such as bacon and feta (a salt lover's dream) to unusual toppings including mozzarella sticks, baked beans, and French fries to truly weird choices such as a surprisingly delicious apple cinnamon pizza and a sweet-tasting Oreo cookie pizza. Prices for pies are very reasonable, as would be expected from a roadside joint like this, and as previously mentioned, beers are certainly inexpensive, though don't expect to get a session ale or a high-end Belgian beer; Bud and Miller seem to be the name of the game at the Venus.
There are some great places for bar pizza south of Boston, but aside from perhaps the Lynwood, which can be very tough to find if you don't know the area, the Venus Cafe stands out for being literally a hidden gem in a relatively unknown area, far away from Routes 3, 128, and 24. Having said that, is it worth the ride from Boston? Well, it depends on what style of pizza you like--and whether you are a fan of dive bars and townie joints. If you like eating bar pie in an atmosphere that is not unlike an Elks Lodge, make sure you don't miss this one.
Copyright © 2011-2015, Boston's Hidden Restaurants (www.hiddenboston.com).