Chef Jarrett Stieber describes opening Little Bear, his new Summerhill restaurant, as “surreal”. After running the wildly popular pop-up Eat Me Speak Me for years, his restaurant already has a built-in set of regulars. Most have followed Stieber since his days at Gato cafe in Candler Park, where he offered playful takes on the fine dining establishment’s proclivity for tweezer food garnished with “pretentious flowers” or desserts like a blondie brownie and whiskey milk served with a tiny straw.
As the doors open at the Georgia Avenue restaurant, Stieber is back in the kitchen serving up what he refers to as “Michelin Tire dining” and “regular dinners”, both prominently stated on the front windows of Little Bear. This is part of what endears people to Stieber as a chef — making dining out approachable and fun by not taking the whole thing so seriously.
At its core, Little Bear is a neighborhood restaurant watched over by its namesake and furry “proprietor”, Fernando L. Bear. The five-year-old Pyrenees mountain dog, known as the “ambassador of adorable”, has his own Instagram account and happily holds court on restaurant patios throughout Atlanta’s east side.
It seemed only natural to name Little Bear for the hospitable beast, who indeed resembles a small bear.
The intimate dining atmosphere at the restaurant should feel familiar to those who attended Stieber’s pop-ups at Gato. The chef even stands behind the counter cooking in an open kitchen while chatting with diners. Little Bear includes just 30 seats between a row of two-top tables set against a long, wooden banquette and a ten-seat bar.
Stieber’s mischievous sense of humor is seen in design touches throughout the space, too. The multi-colored brush strokes on the bar top seem ripped from the intro sequence to 1990s teen sitcom “Saved By the Bell”. An Instagrammable neon sign — the latest design fad at some Atlanta restaurants — is perfect for the customary bathroom mirror selfie. It simply reads, “Neon Sign.”
The menu at Little Bear features around 12 shareable dishes, ranging from $7 to $13, broken out into hot, cold, and sweet sections. Dishes listed include Stieber’s tongue-and-cheek descriptions, like a catfish okonomiyaki served with 1990s-style mayo and brown sauce drizzles or apples and pork belly “drowning” in Sichuan chile oil. For dessert there’s the gold rice pudding topped with an “unnecessary garnish,” because “how frivolous!”
Like Eat Me Speak Me, Little Bear features the options to order a six-course omakase dinner or the “just f*ck me up, fam” for group dining. The latter provides a table one of everything on the menu, served family-style.
General manager and bartender Kate Flowe (Watchman’s Seafood and Spirits, Kimball House, Staplehouse, Octopus Bar) mixes beer and cider, cocktails, and natural and bio-dynamic wines from light and low ABV to full-bodied and boozy on Little Bear’s menu. A small selection of wines by the bottle, fortified wines, and handshake-sized pours of eau de vies, digestifs, and cordials are also available.
Now at the helm of his own restaurant, Stieber hopes Little Bear provides his staff the same opportunities to grow and create as he was given by chefs and restaurant owners who took a chance on him with Eat Me Speak Me.
“Running a pop up for seven years was never the plan, and the whole time, it basically feels like being a grown up living with roommates — even good roommates are still roommates — and you’re ready for your own space,” Stieber says. “Hopefully we can turn this place into a comfortable, beloved neighborhood restaurant for a long time to come and a place for people to be pleasantly surprised.”
Check out the menu:
Open Wednesday - Sunday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Reservations encouraged. Walk-in seating available at the bar.
71 Georgia Avenue, Atlanta. littlebearatl.com.