Bostonians have the opportunity to taste Food Network-quality dishes at Dates and Olives, where chef, owner, and former Chopped contestant Renita Mendonca is dishing out fresh Mediterranean food in Brighton, Mass.
Prior to opening the restaurant, Mendonca was inspired by the idea of cooking with natural, organic ingredients. Growing up in India, Mendonca’s interest in food began to encompass Indian flavors and techniques, and branched out to various cuisines. Mendonca’s widespread interests have one thing in common: the food must be nutritious and unprocessed.
“I’ve worked in various restaurants across the globe, and I’ve always wanted food that was fresh, healthy, not sitting around—stuff that people can eat every day,” Mendonca said.
Mendonca entered into the restaurant and catering business with this health-conscientious approach, becoming incredibly successful and achieving culinary positions at upscale hotel chains such as the Hyatt and the Taj Group. Mendonca also received a culinary scholarship from Johnson and Wales University, increasing her expertise in Indian, Thai, French, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisines.
The concept for Dates and Olives evolved largely out of a desire to bring accessible, fresh, and flavorful food to the Brighton area.
“It’s just so fitting for the demographics—there’s a coffee place, there’s a fish place, and burgers, so we said: fresh food,” Mendonca said. The reaction to Dates and Olives has been generally positive since the restaurant moved into its spot on Chestnut Hill Ave.
Before opening Dates and Olives on Aug. 28 of this year, Mendonca was busy with her catering business Seasoned and Spiced, which also doubles as a farmers market. This company acted as a starting point for Mendonca’s venture into the Boston culinary landscape.
“I’d like to say [Dates and Olives] is my step up,” she said.
Mendonca argues the made-from-scratch falafel, hummus, couscous salad, and eggplant dip are also a “step up” from the typical dining options in Brighton. This freshly made attitude also extends out to the homemade, cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices featured at the restaurant. New customers to Dates and Olives will have the chance to taste the thick, delectable hummus at the outset of their dining experience. Menu items, such as the eggplant dip or the muhamara dip with pita, might initially sound intimidating to patrons who are used to “traditional” Mediterranean fare (e.g. gyros), but Mendonca is confident that farm-fresh flavors and a warm, welcoming staff is all that’s needed to entice customers to broaden their horizons.
The familiar quick-serve method at Dates and Olives further emphasizes the high standard of service at the restaurant. Chef Mendonca has implemented a “fine-casual” format in which the customer makes his or her way down a counter, piling on a variety of 12 toppings and sauces such as olives, feta cheese, and yogurt mint sauce.
“It’s a build-your-meal concept,” Mendonca said. “You come in and choose between rice, salad, or a pita pocket, and choose any one—protein or veggies—and add any four of the toppings and sauces.”
Having just officially opened Dates and Olives less than a month ago, Chef Mendonca is eager to attract a larger customer base, citing Boston College as a sizeable contributor. The business is anticipating that the reasonably priced choices, garden-fresh food, and relaxed, local atmosphere will rope in more and more students.
“The word is not out yet with the college kids,” she said. “We did the Taste of BC and would love more kids to come in and see what this is about. The professors have been very receptive.”
Featured Images by Collin Couch / Heights Staff