This week, Li'l Miss Dish has learned some really grown-up stuff. She learned that, like the college campus from which Li'l Miss Dish was recently sprung, the outwardly appearing lovey-dovey cafe scene is actually a squirrelly place where friendships and business relationships are built and sometimes, sadly, collapse.

Such is the case at Northwest Portland's Stepping Stone Cafe (2390 NW Quimby St., 222-1132). Four years ago, this little diner with a longtime following was saved from being turned into just another Asian eatery when neighborhood patron Roger Wood and cafe employee Don Moore decided to buy the Nob Hill neighborhood favorite. "We sat down, got out a napkin and pencil, and 30 minutes later, we had a business plan," says Wood, who would become the restaurant's primary financial partner.

The duo worked well together--Don played as the cafe's more visible face, and Roger worked behind the scenes. This relationship changed dramatically this past Halloween weekend when Don closed shop early and disappeared.

According to both parties, Don--who lives in the apartment above the Stepping Stone--fell off the wagon after being clean and sober for more than 15 years. Well, sort of. Don had had a previous slip-up four months earlier, and at that point Roger gave him an ultimatum: Clean up or ship out. It may not have been too great a surprise, but when Don returned from his latest absence, he says, "my home office files and Rolodex had been cleared out, and all my computer files were deleted. Roger had begun proceedings to have me removed from the contract."

While each version differs slightly on the logistics of how Don's departure was handled, Roger claims the split was amicable and that the two even shared a hug after signing legal documents that effectively terminated Don's connection to the Stepping Stone. Don continues to live above the cafe and has begun a treatment program at Providence. He says he's looking into new business opportunities and is encouraged by the support of many of the cafe's most loyal patrons.


Look for one of downtown's most beloved coffee carts, Bad Kitty Koffee, to close permanently next week. The cart, which equally wafts scents of espresso and sounds of classical music, has been sold to George Black, a Chicago native and longtime vegetarian who once reconstructed a Peterson's guide into a handy little zine. She tells Li'l Dish that within a week of the Kitty's departure, her new deli-style lunch cart, Chef To Go, will open. As for the menu at this little black cart on the corner of Southwest Park Avenue and Yamhill Street, she's been wrestling with an internal, ideological debate: to serve meat, or not to serve meat. Not wanting to shoot herself in the drumstick, she put a chicken salad on the menu. Still, she questioned her decision aloud when chatting with Li'l Miss Dish. Half an hour later, Li'l Miss D got this missive: "I felt bad and false to myself to add flesh recently and listened to the opinion of a NON-vegetarian business person that told me I wouldn't survive flesh-free. Watch me!...So scratch the Chicken Caesar and add my Skillet-Browned Seitan Caesar Sandwich." Other menu items include jumbo "Smart" dogs, Tofurky sandwiches with cranberry mayo, roasted eggplant with hummus sandwich and a "killer vegan chili." As for the Kitty Kart, Black says its owner, Kevin McGrorty, has designs on opening a cafe in Northwest Portland.


Breakfast favorite J&M Cafe (537 SE Ash St., 230-0463) is now serving up supper from 5 to 10 pm Tuesday through Saturday. The menu contains such little gems as Brussels sprouts (!?!) with walnuts and paprika, sweet-pea pancakes with sour cream, and rosemary-infused rabbit sausage soaked in a white-wine stew over mashed potatoes. J&M also offers an inventive list of no-hard-liquor-license cocktails, including the Bellini (peach sorbet and champagne) and the Lavender Fizz (lavender and champagne).


Fans of Bella Faccia, the crafty pizzeria on Northeast Alberta Street, should take note that one of the owners is branching out and opening another location in Northeast. Williams Avenue--in a spot that formerly housed rib palace Big Fam Fams (not to be confused with Ham Hams)--will be the home of Pizza-A-Go-Go (284-4674).


Sweetwater's Jam House, the Belmont neighborhood's only Caribbean refuge, is kaput. A message left on the restaurant's machine states, "We regret to announce that Sweetwater's Jam House is now closed for business. The ownership and fab staff would like to thank all of our customers for your loyal patronage throughout the years. We wish you well as we bid you a fond farewell. Peace and Jah bless."

Miss Dish Sr. is on vacation.