First Look: Try a to-go prix fixe tasting menu for 2 at Little Bear in Summerhill

Prix fix dishes packed to-go at Little Bear in Summerhill. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Prix fix dishes packed to-go at Little Bear in Summerhill. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Chef Jarrett Stieber finally opened his long-time-coming dream project, Little Bear, in late February.

But the diminutive 30-seat Summerhill neighborhood restaurant and bar was only up and running for a couple of weeks when the COVID-19 pandemic closed the dining room, and Stieber had to turn to takeout to keep the operation going.

Stieber got his start working in fine-dining restaurants such as Abattoir and Empire State South. But he’s better known for helping pioneer the pop-up in Atlanta, launching Eat Me Speak Me at the Candler Park Market deli in 2013.

He later moved it to Gato, next door. And by 2017, he was honing his playful and sometimes irreverent cooking at SOS in Decatur, offering an array of imaginative dishes with what former Atlanta Journal-Constitution dining critic John Kessler once described as "wit and smarts to spare."

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Exterior of Little Bear on Georgia Avenue in Summerhill. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Exterior of Little Bear on Georgia Avenue in Summerhill.  CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Exterior of Little Bear on Georgia Avenue in Summerhill. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

At Little Bear, which is named for his family’s Pyrenees mountain dog, Stieber initially offered a menu of a dozen-plus shareable dishes, mostly made with seasonal ingredients from local farms. That proved too complicated for takeout ordering, though, so he switched to a prix fixe tasting menu for two. For $55, recent “Irregular Dinners” to go have included five savory dishes and two desserts.

Last week’s menu took a Spanish turn. A turnip tortilla was described as “baked eggs and turnips covered with ropa vieja sauce, chives and an egregious amount of olive oil.” Sweet patatas bravas were “slathered with pork fat coffee chile oil, aioli and soft herbs.” Catalan-style pork meatballs and roasted spring vegetables were “buried under salvitxada verde sauce, parsley and crispy rice.”

With “Fernando’s Liver Stimulus Package,” you can order from a fairly wide selection of wine, beer, sake or cider to go — plus there’s a daily selection of house-made “spritz kits” to take home from the bar.

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Customers picking up orders at Little Bear. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Customers picking up orders at Little Bear. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Customers picking up orders at Little Bear. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Stieber talked more about Little Bear last week, including what the restaurant was meant to be, and how it’s working now.

“The concept was really to be kind of a simple neighborhood restaurant, like you find in other big food cities, particularly San Francisco or Montreal, or to an extent New York,” he said. “Just a small, hole-in-the wall place, with a small capacity and a small staff, that’s comfortable and casual, but serving food and drinks that are far better than they should be for the price point.

“We got off to a pretty good start doing that for a couple of weeks before the state of emergency hit. We had one guest come in who said she couldn’t believe that this was in Atlanta. It reminded her of restaurants in San Francisco. I was like, ‘Well, you get it then. Perfect.’ And that’s what we really wanted to do.”

In addition to making it a comfortable place for guests, Stieber said he conceived Little Bear as a comfortable place for staff, too.

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Chef Jarrett Stieber (right) with general manger/bar manager Kate Flowe at Little Bear. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Chef Jarrett Stieber (right) with general manger/bar manager Kate Flowe at Little Bear. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Chef Jarrett Stieber (right) with general manger/bar manager Kate Flowe at Little Bear. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

“I worked in fine dining for most of my career, and they were all high-volume places, trying to do elevated food, and I just don’t think it makes sense, really,” he said. “It’s really thin margins, and it’s really hard on the staff, they don’t get paid well, and they get burned out and disgruntled, and you have high turnover.

“We just wanted to find a way to try to do something a little different; where we could have a smaller staff, and lower overhead, and control the atmosphere for working here to give people a better environment, with fair pay, and reasonable hours. We have two days off every week, paid vacation, and we’re trying to provide health care for the staff. Things that you just don’t get in other restaurants.”

Asked about how the menu was being tweaked for takeout, Stieber said it was a more difficult process than you might expect.

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Chef Jarrett Stieber of Little Bear. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Chef Jarrett Stieber of Little Bear. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Chef Jarrett Stieber of Little Bear. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

“When we conceptualize dishes each week and do our menu planning, it’s not just, ‘What do we want to do with the produce we got in?’ It’s, ‘What do we want to do? And what will travel well?’ But it’s still our food. We have an identity that we established from Eat Me Speak Me. And there’s just three of us in the kitchen: me, my chef de cuisine Jacob Armando, my sous chef Trevor Vick.

“We have a lot of pride in what we do, and what we’ve done. We’re playful, and we’re fun, and we’re relaxed. We go out of our way to joke with the menu, but we take it very seriously, and we believe in what we’re doing and the way we’re making food. We want it to be reflective of our food, normally, and we’re trying to make the most interesting, tasty takeout food we can. And let’s just be Atlanta’s only to-go prix fixe tasting menu for two.”

As far as how he’s adapting to life during a pandemic, in general, Stieber said he’s taking it in stride.

“If anybody is used to dealing with weird logistical stuff to navigate, it’s definitely us,” he said, laughing. “After seven years of running a pop-up restaurant leading up to this, it wouldn’t have felt right, and it would have been strange if we had just opened and had it be the type of restaurant we wanted it to be, and were just busy and doing well. Thankfully, this pandemic came around and reminded us that we can’t just do a normal thing.”

71 Georgia Ave. SE, Unit A, Atlanta. 404-500-5396, littlebearatl.com.

Scroll down for more images from a First Look at Little Bear in Summerhill

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Sweet patatas bravas slathered with pork fat coffee chili oil, aioli and soft herbs. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Sweet patatas bravas slathered with pork fat coffee chili oil, aioli and soft herbs. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Sweet patatas bravas slathered with pork fat coffee chili oil, aioli and soft herbs. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Turnip tortilla with baked eggs and turnips covered with ropa vieja sauce, chives and an egregious amount of olive oil. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Turnip tortilla with baked eggs and turnips covered with ropa vieja sauce, chives and an egregious amount of olive oil. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Turnip tortilla with baked eggs and turnips covered with ropa vieja sauce, chives and an egregious amount of olive oil. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Gem lettuce al pil pil salad tossed with Basque style emulsified aromatic olive oil sauce, topped with Idiazabal cheese, 'Tammy the sourdough' gremolata and tons of dill. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY)

Gem lettuce al pil pil  salad tossed with Basque style emulsified aromatic olive oil sauce, topped with Idiazabal cheese, 'Tammy the sourdough' gremolata and tons of dill. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY)

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Gem lettuce al pil pil salad tossed with Basque style emulsified aromatic olive oil sauce, topped with Idiazabal cheese, 'Tammy the sourdough' gremolata and tons of dill. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY)

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Catalan style pork meatballs and roasted spring veg buried under salvitxada verde sauce, parsley & crispy rice. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Catalan style pork meatballs and roasted spring veg buried under salvitxada verde sauce, parsley & crispy rice. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Catalan style pork meatballs and roasted spring veg buried under salvitxada verde sauce, parsley & crispy rice. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Caldo gallego red pea and beet green soup packed with fennel, pepper, chili and wine vinegar. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY.

Caldo gallego red pea and beet green soup packed with fennel, pepper, chili and wine vinegar. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY.

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Caldo gallego red pea and beet green soup packed with fennel, pepper, chili and wine vinegar. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY.

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Andalusian style fried dough flavored with benne and anise and glazed with honey. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Andalusian style fried dough flavored with benne and anise and glazed with honey. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Andalusian style fried dough flavored with benne and anise and glazed with honey. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Tarta de santiago medieval Galician almond cake dusted with strawberry powdered sugar. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Tarta de santiago  medieval Galician almond cake dusted with strawberry powdered sugar. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Tarta de santiago medieval Galician almond cake dusted with strawberry powdered sugar. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Spritz Kits to-go at Little Bear. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY.

Spritz Kits to-go at Little Bear. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY.

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Spritz Kits to-go at Little Bear. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY.

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