Older Atlantans will remember the Jewish enclave around the old Braves Stadium and Capitol Avenue before the flight to the suburbs in the 1950s. Fast forward to 70 years later, a graduate of The Westminster School Jarrett Stieber opening an off-beat Jewish-accented restaurant serving Szechuan food.
“We opened Little Bear in February 2020, weeks before the COVID shutdown. We have playful, relevant food. Fine dining without the pomp, pretense or price point. All of the fresh produce is sourced from local farms, and that drives everything,” Stieber said.
“Currently we’re mixing together Jewish and Chinese food, but the goal is to make a creative dynamic menu in an approachable setting.”
Little Bear is named after Stieber’s dog, Fernando, who is a big fluffy Great Pyrenees, whom many compare to a small bear.
This Summerhill neighborhood has rows of charming multi-leveled wood-sided homes painted in light blues and whites just blocks off the central business district where Little Bear is located. Stieber recalled, “I picked Summerhill because I wanted to take a calculated risk on a less oversaturated part of town with a younger, adventurous clientele base nearby. The old, gorgeous buildings full of character were a major selling point, instead of a boring new development.”
Summerhill neighbor and Airbnb entrepreneur Andy Bibliowicz reported that Summerhill has transitioned into “what it was meant to be, back in the days of Turner Field and the Olympics, bringing good food, drink and positive communal spaces to the neighborhood. With restaurants like Little Bear defining what an amazing food experience the neighborhood has (what feels like overnight) changed into a fun meeting place.”
Stieber grew up in Atlanta. His paternal grandparents were “foodie types,” but he wasn’t inspired to cook until he watched Emeril Lagasse on TV. At 15, he started working in restaurants and never looked back. He went to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu, but credits 99 percent of what he’s learned from working in the industry. “I enjoyed fine dining around Atlanta like Pura Vida back in the day, Holeman and Finch before there was even an off-menu burger, Abattoir, Empire State South under Ryan Smith (the world renown Staplehouse). Little Bear is inspired by my favorite restaurants in food cities like Montreal, San Francisco, D.C., Chicago – small corner lot type of restaurants, limited seating and a tiny staff. Casual but technical, comfortable but sophisticated. Before Little Bear, I ran a pop-up Eat Me Speak Me.”
Although the food is not kosher, Stieber experimented with a Passover seder plate special. He recalled, “It was mostly non-Jews ordering it, but we had a few Jewish guests who said they enjoyed it as a ‘fun riff’ on nostalgic food. $32 for the large meat version (half of an entire flank steak) and $25 for the large vegetation version (roasted carrots). Both came with matzo balls and suan cai (Chinese sauerkraut), horseradish chili crisp, ‘strange flavor’ pecan charoset, soft boiled pastrami egg, brined green garlic / scallion and bitter herbs.”
He further extols his secret to a great matzo ball. “Actually season the damn thing! Most just don’t put enough salt! We use garlic/ginger paste, lots of Chinese 5 Spice and quality local eggs. I like a texture in the middle like a fluffy cannon ball.”
Little Bear’s menu changes frequently, based on seasonality. Their fried rice is super popular. Here are some other eclectic menu choices based on the night we dined:
Gefilte Caesar: head lettuce, dried scallion seasoning, cured egg yolk, benne, egg noodle croutons.
Mala Matzo Balls: shaved root vegetables, buttermilk, chervil, mustard greens, aromatic spicy broth.
Carrots in dan dan sauce: pecans, dill, tzimmes, umami powder.
Heirloom tomatoes with rye bread: gremola, yibin yaci sauce, basil vinegar, d’avignon radish, olives.
Xinjiang fried chicken is prepared with Manischewitz wine.
From the bar, cocktails such as limoncello highballs, seven wine choices, six beers and ales.
Eating at Little Bear is certainly an experience like no other, but don’t go expecting traditional Jewish dishes, despite the names on the menu.
Little Bear, located at 71 Georgia Avenue, seats 30 and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Hours are 4 to 9 p.m.