Farm-to-table isn’t just a marketing phrase at Little Bear. “This really is a snapshot into what’s in season around Atlanta,” says Jarrett Stieber, the chef-owner of the restaurant located in Atlanta’s Summerhill neighborhood. “Pretty much every day you come in, it’s going to be everything that’s available right now. In a week that might be different.”
The ever-changing nature of available produce means that Stieber and his team only have a couple of days to plan their menu. “We get the availability list from the different farms, usually between Sunday and Monday, ahead of the next week,” he explains. “And by Wednesday, we’re open.” Stieber works with about 15 or 16 farms throughout the year and about five or six on a weekly basis. “It keeps us creative. You have to stay flexible and willing to make changes on the fly,” Stieber says.
It also allows Stieber and his team to have fun and it’s reflected in everything from the menu names (check out the “pawloma” cocktail) to the restaurant design. The restaurant, which is named after his Great Pyrenees pup, opened in February 2020 with the hopes that it would become a San Francisco-like neighborhood spot (convivial but cool). That got put on hold until May 2021, but now people can enjoy the brick-lined dining room with a colorful, hand-painted bar — and yes, that is dog-patterned wallpaper.
Sit, stay, and check out the five dishes that tell the story of Little Bear. Just know that by the time you visit, the menu will likely have changed again.
1. Butternut Salad
We think of butternut squash as fall gourds, but they start appearing in the late summer. Stieber looks forward to their arrival because they break up the monotony of peppers and eggplants. At Little Bear, the butternut squash is used in a salad. Stieber roasts and cools the squash and serves it in sharp broth made from leftover tomato scraps, pepper butts, and fermented peach. “It’s like a leche de tigre or aguachile kind of vibe,” says Stieber. “A little bit acidic and sharp to serve the butternut squash in and cut through the creamy, buttery texture of the squash.” The salad is topped with duo jiao, a lightly fermented Chinese chili garlic sauce, basil, and pickled basil seed.
2. Meat du Jour
Since Little Bear’s menu is heavy on the veggies, Stieber wanted to have a dedicated meat option. “We thought it’d be fun to have a larger format protein option, where it’s almost a reverse steakhouse in a way,” says Stieber. The meat du jour is always available but the exact meat offering changes depending on availability. It’s currently a coulotte that’s been roasted to medium-rare and sliced to order. The coulotte is served with a marinated smashed cucumber and late summer melon salad that’s been dressed in harissa. A Sichuan-style sauce made with savory chocolate ganache is poured over the beef tableside.
3. Aliens Exist
The cocktail menu at Little Bear is tight — about six drinks — and, like the food, changes often. True to Little Bear’s style, the drinks reflect what’s in season and also makes use of scraps, vegetables, and trimmings from around the kitchen. “Things like that, that a lot of people throw away, but still have a lot of flavor,” explains Stieber. “So we’ll infuse them into different projects for the bar, make cordials, and syrups.” These drinks skew towards savory and therefore go with many of the dishes (rather than clash).
The Aliens Exist is a riff on a tea punch made with rhum agricole and has “a late summer vibe,” says Stieber. The agricole is combined with rum, lime cheeks, and a cucumber-basil liqueur made in-house. The liqueur uses leftover juice from the salted smashed cucumbers for the meat dujour and a basil tincture. “It’s a good way to not throw things away, and still get a really cool, vegetal garden kind of flavor into your tea punch,” he says.
4. Chicken Liver Pate
The chicken liver pate is a menu staple. “It’s one of my favorite things to eat,” Stieber says, “and it’s a really nice, easy thing to share.” The base is a custardy pate that uses Joyce Farms chicken livers and it’s capped with a fruit gelee that changes throughout the year. Currently, it’s a strawberry and herb gelee made with strawberry vinegar and herbs stems that are sweetened with Georgia honey. It’s served with zhug made with garlic scapes and cloves. It’s served with lettuce and pickles for wrapping and snacking.
Okra is a produce star in the late summer months, and Stieber gives it his own twist here. Instead of frying it in a cornmeal breading, he dry fries it and serves it with a horseradish yogurt. Then it’s dressed with a house-made “Texas Pets” sauce. “Whenever we have a cayenne based hot sauce, that’s got that red vinegary sort of flavor profile, similar to Texas Pete’s, we call it Texas pets, just because of the dog restaurant theme,” says Stieber.