You have probably noticed that Atlanta restaurant owners have for the most part not accepted Governor Kemp’s invitation to sicken and kill their staffs and customers by prematurely reopening. Somehow, they didn’t choose to be President Trump’s stooge’s stooges. But there’s good news: You can pick up excellent, multicourse meals to go for bargain prices at two new, long-awaited restaurants.
I’m talking about Little Bear and Talat Market. Both got their starts as three-day pop-ups at Gato in Candler Park. Both became wildly popular for their novel, locally sourced cooking. Chefs at both were nominated for prestigious James Beard awards. Both have now opened small restaurants seating 25 or so customers in Summerhill, the neighborhood adjacent to Grant Park where the old Turner Field is located.
Although I have great familiarity with Talat’s cuisine, I have only been able to score a meal at Little Bear. The chef there, Jarrett Stieber, is the ultimate aesthete who loves irony. The window of the restaurant proclaims that it has won 2.5 stars from Michelin Tire Dining, satirizing the borderline-pretentious Michelin Guide, whose rating stars have long been coveted in the same way Gov. Kemp desires pats on the head from his orange idol. Stieber’s multicourse meals are meant for sharing, like families do, prompting him to subtitle his menu, “Just F*ck Me Up, Fam.”
Of course, the other side of the irony is that while he satirizes the world of fine dining, he’s actually been nominated for that James Beard award. So, this is fine dining that’s affordable and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Although I don’t like using this dated term, his work probably qualifies as “tweezer food.” That is food chefs arrange with such meticulous, obsessive detail, they use surgical tweezers. It’s not just about gorgeous visuals, though. Stieber places ingredients on the plate—or takeout box!—in such a way that you don’t have a choice about the subtle collision of flavors. This is all the more impressive when you realize he and his associate chefs don’t create recipes in advance. They go to the markets, buy whatever blazing-fresh produce and proteins they can find, and then dream up recipes that might be altogether new or fascinating riffs on themed classics.
The theme of my meal was Spanish, one of my favorite cuisines since I used to spend a lot of time in Southern Spain. It was seven courses for $55 for two people (Stieber has cut courses to five, but quantity of food and price remain the same). Among the dishes was a rectangular tortilla made with baked eggs and turnips under a “ropa vieja sauce” and “an egregious amount of olive oil.” Never in a million years would I think to anoint a tortilla with a meaty red-wine gravy based on Cuban ropa vieja. Another dish combined regional Spanish meatballs weirdly hiding the roasted green onions that are an obsession of the same region. Stieber turned the usual red sauce green. There was a fiery fennel soup made with red peas, a salad of gem lettuce with dill, radishes, and a sheep’s milk cheese; almond cake, and an anise-spiked cookie popular during holidays in Spain. An unbelievable value.
Talat’s menu so far has cost $50 for six dishes for two. Chef/co-owners Parnass Savang and Rod Lassiter prepare Thai food unlike any you’ve ever tasted. It’s based on traditional techniques and flavors, but is often off-the-wall, taking Thai to Georgia and back again. If I ever score a meal, I’ll say more.
(Little Bear, 71-A Georgia Avenue SE, 404-500-5396, littlebearatl.com; Talat Market, 112 Ormond Street SE, 404-257-6255, talatmarketatl.com. Both open Wednesday through Sunday for evening pickup. For menus and ordering details, check their websites and Instagram pages, @littlebearatl and @talat_marketatl.)