Atlanta Orders In: Inside the mind of Little Bear chef Jarrett Stieber, pandemic edition

Chef Jarrett Stieber of Little Bear said that, "like everyone, we’re juggling by week to week.” Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Chef Jarrett Stieber of Little Bear said that, "like everyone, we’re juggling by week to week.” Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Eat Me Speak Me pop-up founder discusses why he’s sticking with takeout at Summerhill restaurant

Chef-owner Jarrett Stieber ticked off the latest tweaks to the ever-changing menu at Little Bear.

On the way is bubble and squeak, a winter weather British dish featuring pot roast leftovers mashed into patties and fried.

The chocolate torte is leaving the dessert list, to be replaced by a ricotta tart or a sweet potato parfait.

There are certain constants (some sort of lettuce salad, a dry-fried veggie, a charcuterie offering), but enough switcheroos that, “in theory, you could come by every week and get new dishes if you want to be a regular,” Stieber said.

ExploreMore Atlanta Orders In
Goat liver mousse, with apple and ginger gelée, apple butter and crackers, is among the "snacky charcuterie" sort of things chef-owner Jarrett Stieber offers at Little Bear. Holly Steel / holly.steel@ajc.com
Goat liver mousse, with apple and ginger gelée, apple butter and crackers, is among the "snacky charcuterie" sort of things chef-owner Jarrett Stieber offers at Little Bear. Holly Steel / holly.steel@ajc.com

Credit: Holly Steel

Credit: Holly Steel

The nine pandemic-filled months that Little Bear has been in business in Atlanta’s Summerhill neighborhood have seen Stieber and his skeletal crew of six staying as scrappy and nimble as when he orchestrated Eat Me Speak Me, the pop-up that garnered him a James Beard Award nomination as a rising star.

When takeout became the new service model, the process for developing innovative small plates logically shifted to “not just what would be a good dish, but a dish that would travel well.” (Beef fried rice!)

ExploreIntown Atlanta dining news
Little Bear's highly transportable beef fried rice holds the flavors of black garlic sauce, green chili oil, South American fruit feijoa, scallion, peppers and herbs. Courtesy of Little Bear
Little Bear's highly transportable beef fried rice holds the flavors of black garlic sauce, green chili oil, South American fruit feijoa, scallion, peppers and herbs. Courtesy of Little Bear

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

As the weeks and months of takeout-only dragged on, he said, the focus became “finding a specific format that worked for us.”

Initially, it was a prix fixe for two that catered to couples who wanted an at-home tasting-menu experience. For a time, the kitchen produced themed menus that paid homage to cuisines from around the world. “When we were doing rotating countries, it was a lot of fun at first, then it became kind of limiting,” Stieber said.

They since have widened their focus to better attract individual diners, but there’s no rule except one: Build dishes layered with flavor.

Inside the mind of Jarrett Stieber, Eat Me Speak Me chef and owner. (Erica A. Hernandez/AJC)

Stieber has arrived at the conclusion that, “We can cook whatever the hell we want with what we have.”

He also is sticking to his guns when it comes to reopening for dine-in customers. “Right now, no one on my team wants to reopen. I want to listen to them as best I can,” he said.

With the record number of COVID-19 cases that have been reported nationally, “It doesn’t seem like a great time to reopen,” he added.

Plus, a socially distanced dining room would allow for all of 10 seats. “It’s not enough to live off,” he said.

Little Bear has been open nine months on Georgia Avenue in Summerhill. Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Little Bear has been open nine months on Georgia Avenue in Summerhill. Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Thanks to the upbeat posts and photos he shares on Instagram and Facebook, the public assumes everything is fine, he said, but "like everyone, we’re juggling by, week to week.”

However, there’s still the same cheeky menu that’s as fun to read as it is to eat through — a salad that features “seasonally confused cucumber,” a veg of the day holding “shockingly late-season tomatoes.”

“We’ve all been dealt this crushing blow this year,” he said. “It’s amazing to see how creative people can be when they have to be. Restaurants are historically known for operating on razor-thin margins and not open to change.”

He and his crew are so open to change that they are defying Thanksgiving tradition by selling a house-made roselle powder that can be reconstituted at home and used in place of cranberry sauce.

It’s the perfect side dish for an imperfect year.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

Little Bear chef-owner Jarrett Stieber, seen at the entrance to the restaurant, has one rule: Build dishes layered with flavor. Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
Little Bear chef-owner Jarrett Stieber, seen at the entrance to the restaurant, has one rule: Build dishes layered with flavor. Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

LITTLE BEAR

Menu: seasonal, vegetable-forward small plates, featuring local ingredients treated with care and creativity; four-course $35 prix fixe offers value-driven taste of Little Bear; easily accommodates vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and allergen-free diets

Alcohol: wine, beer and cocktails

What I ordered: goat liver mousse (with apple and ginger gelée, apple butter and crackers flavored with funky okra powder); beef fried rice (with black garlic sauce, green chili oil, feijoa, green onion and herbs); individual prix fixe rillettes (goat belly, garlicky ají condiment, pickled greens and summer crisp lettuce, roasted sweet potato, rice porridge); large vegetation du jour; mochi cake (with butternut custard, crispy rice, poppy and lemon balm)

Service options: takeout (curbside available); order by phone, online or in person; no delivery

Outdoor dining: limited to two two-seat tables (not full service); limited shared patio dining space on the block

Mask policy: required for all employees; mandated for guests when interfacing with staff or using restroom

Address, phone: 71 Georgia Ave. SE, Atlanta; 404-500-5396

Hours: 5-9 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays (5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays beginning Dec. 1)

Website: littlebearatl.com

Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.

About the Author

ajc.com

In Other News