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Known for it's brunch menu, Maplewood Coffee and Tea introduces a new dining concept

PMG PHOTO: BILL GALLAGHER - Special dinners will be served on October 18, November 15 and December 13 at Maplewood Coffee and Tea.Three different menus inspired by Oregon's ecosystems will soon be served in the 2500-square-foot, 108-year-old house that was once the heart of Maplewood and is now its go-to spot for coffee and conversation.

If you've walked, ridden or driven through the neighborhood north of Multnomah Boulevard and west of Southwest 45th Ave., you've seen it.

Built in 1911, the green house on the corner of Southwest Custer and Southwest 52nd became the only grocery store and post office for miles. Railroad workers who rented tents nearby had to walk to Hillsdale for supplies before "the green store" opened.

The Maplewood Store lasted until 1976. It's been the home of Maplewood Coffee and Tea since Jo Whitsell bought it and lovingly restored it in 2012. Starting October 18, Whitsell and head chef Travis Surmi will launch the Maplewood Dinner Series: three monthly, themed meals. In October, food from the Oregon Coast will be featured. On November 15, food you acquaint with Oregon's forests will be offered. On December 13, the high desert of Eastern Oregon will be the source.

In 2017 Whitsell had the kitchen in her coffee shop upgraded and last year brought Surmi in as general manager. Serving dinner regularly wasn't "sustainable," she said, "so this is kind of an experiment. We would love to offer dinners that we concentrate on. We'd like to do something really special, well-done and refined."

Among the dishes Surmi will be preparing are prosciutto-wrapped halibut (Coastal), roasted eggplant and Oregon blue cheese (Forest) and coffee rubbed elk steak (High Desert).

Surmi said the idea of an Oregon ecosystems theme for these dinners came from his girlfriend. "I totally wanted to do a dinner series. We'd been talking about it for a while and she came up with the idea of featuring Coastal, Forest and High Desert."

While the menus for each evening are posted at www.maplewoodcoffeeandtea.com, Surmi is promising some surprises.

"I don't want to be handcuffed. There's so much great local food available and the availability changes every week. So I want to be able to tweak and adjust the menus. Part of being a chef is to be creative," he said.

There will be just one seating on the evening of the meals at 7 p.m. Whitsell figures there's seating for 45 diners. The cost is $65 per dinner, $85 if drinks are included. You can book all three meals for $180, $240 with drinks. Reservations are required and menus are posted, but as the website notes, "Our menu features locally sourced vegetables, fruits, meats, and herbs, therefore the specifics will be determined by what's available and in-season on the date of the event."

MAPLEWOOD COFFEE AND TEA - 5206 SW Custer Street 503-688-4626

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