You can often smell burgers cooking before you get to the entrance of Burgundy Square Café, an informal breakfast, lunch and dinner spot in downtown Venice. Choose a table at the covered arcade or go inside, where there’s an eclectic arrangement of bare tables and chairs as well as a bar that serves beer and wine.

The ambiance is kitschy and cluttered. The walls are covered with different-sized artworks (mostly paintings) and tchotchkes (all for sale), while the tables, windowsills and shelves display an extensive and amusing collection of salt and pepper shakers. They are everywhere and apparently growing. Our server, Briana, told us that customers bring them in as gifts, and a few tourists have mailed salt and pepper shakers to Burgundy Square Café once they returned home. Our table featured two ceramic pigs in toques. (It was better than next door, where two white skulls dispensed salt and pepper to a table of 10 older men.)

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Photography by Chad Spencer

The menu is familiar American bistro with some emphasis on New England fare. This is a reliable place to get an authentic lobster roll (market price, but usually about $16), which means tender and sweet Maine lobster chunks mixed with a tiny bit of mayonnaise and served in a split-top bun that has been lightly buttered and grilled on the sides. It’s just like you’d get at your favorite clam shack on Cape Cod.

The menu also offers whole-belly Maine clams (a rarity in these parts), haddock, fish and chips, seafood scampi and fried seafood platter with haddock, scallops and clams. Leaving New England, there’s “Grandma’s” recipe for meatloaf, veal Parmesan, veggie stir-fry, broiled salmon, eight different burgers, several wraps, and salads such as Caesar, Asian or Santa Fe.

Nothing on the menu is meant to challenge anyone’s palate, and the seasoning (or lack of) renders nearly everything mild-tasting. If you want to kick your plate up a notch, there’s no shortage of salt and pepper shakers nearby. Crystal hot sauce and ketchup are also on every table.

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My steakhouse salad with bleu cheese crumbles ($9.75) was enormous, and the grilled sirloin (cooked precisely as ordered) was both tender and delicious. The piece of steak was fanned out over the fresh greens and then covered by a mound of crisp batter-fried onion rings. The bleu cheese crumbles were so mild that it was hard to identify the cheese as bleu. Two plastic containers on the side meant that I could have as much or little dressing as needed. The presentation was big and bountiful, reaching the edges of the dinner plate. It looked lavish, but it was impossible to dress the salad. Asking for an additional plate solved the problem, since I wanted my lunch buddy to try some. But maybe this gorgeous construction could be presented to the customer in a large shallow bowl for convenience’s sake.

Pair your lunch or dinner with some interesting craft beers from the bar. If you order a beverage, it will come to the table in an oversized red plastic container. The plateware is a mix of different styles, and some are plastic.

Because this place is so popular, it’s noisy. A few sound-soak panels on the ceiling attempt to help the situation, but all the hard surfaces in the restaurant mean you’ll just have to put up with the buzz. The TV at the bar is on mute; read the crawl if you want news. Or just listen to the tables around you. So many locals choose this restaurant that it seems like a natural place to get the daily update.

Breakfast here is an embarrassment of riches, with 10 different omelette selections (served with home fries and available with only egg whites), all priced at $9. Waffles, grits, French toast, wraps, quiche, pancakes—the list of offerings goes on and includes some nice vegetarian dishes. Big eaters can opt for two center-cut pork chops served with two eggs, home fries and toast, for $8.75. After breakfast, do they rise from the table and plow the south 40, or just take a walk on the beach? I’d be taking a nap.

Looking around the crowded room, it’s clear that Burgundy Square Café is appreciated by locals as a destination for simple food abundantly served. And, if you’re into salt and pepper collections, you’ve discovered a museum of the genre. -MARSHA FOTTLER


Burgundy Square Café

227 Miami Ave. W., Venice

(941) 451-8261

Open daily for breakfast, 7:30 a.m.-11 a.m. (noon on Sundays), lunch and dinner entrées 11 a.m.-closing (Sundays, noon–closing).

Beer and wine

Major credit cards

Street parking

Handicapped access