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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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Credit: Ligaya Figueras
Credit: Ligaya Figueras
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)
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