As chef-founder of Bar Normandy, the dusk-to-late-night kitchen takeover of downtown bakery Normandy Farms, Alex Lira conjures a menu that blends traditional Lowcountry dishes with daily specials built from farmer’s market finds and fresh off the boat seafood. Also on display in the venue’s intimate open kitchen: Alex’s inimitable personal style, a winning blend of 1950s all-American cool, 1970s Easy Rider rebel, 1980s action-fashion, and an unfailing instinct for shaping the classics into a daily uniform.
How did you end up in Charleston?
I’m from Richmond, and usually in the culinary world there, you either go north or you go south. I did both. I moved to New York City for 5 years, then headed to Charleston, where I’ve been in for about six years.
What was the inspiration behind Bar Normandy?
There is a lot of fine dining in Charleston. There are a lot of extremely casual places here. But there weren’t a lot of restaurants that occupy that middle ground, so I approached Mike Ray who owns Normandy Farms bakery to take over the evening shift from 4pm on when the bakery closes.
How do you describe the restaurant to people who have never experienced it?
It’s more like a challenge. I say, Come in and see what you think. If you don’t like it, I’ll buy you a drink. So far, I haven’t had to pony up for too many pints.
What’s on the menu tonight?
That’s the fun part. It’s always changing. We try to have something approachable every night, plus something a little wacky and interesting. It’s easiest to come with another person and eat the whole menu. People have a good time here.
What is the typical reaction after people finish their meal?
“I can’t believe you do all that with a couple of induction burners and a panini burners!”
What is a typical Alex Lira breakfast?
Avocado, over-medium chicken eggs from Storey Farms, little lime, little cilantro.
Anchovies and broccoli and garlic, with some fresh meat or fish.
Where do you eat on a night off?
I love FIG, the Ordinary, XBB. And Big Gun Burger—it’s a total dive bar but the burger is insane.
And in your spare time? What do you do besides cook and eat?
Well, I’m renovating my 1975 Airstream right now. I also like to surf Folly Beach—my go-to spots are the Pier and 9th block. I’ll also hit the road on my bike on a Saturday and drive out toward Johns Island and Wadmalaw. You can get lost in the Ladson Flea Market. For music, I always go back to the Pour House.
Describe your daily uniform in the kitchen?
I’m not big on a chef’s coat, but I do have some great old aprons (though, again, I don’t always wear those, either). For me, it’s about comfort and classics: jeans, t-shirt, suspenders, maybe a Greek fisherman’s hat if it’s cold outside.
Whose style to you idolize, past or present?
Don Johnson. In the best possible way.
VISIT BAR NORMANDY AT
The menu changes daily, but you can always enjoy fresh oysters, daily caviar, and the easy-to-parse, ultra-descriptive wine list.