Under the Radar: Interview with Chef Alex Lira of The Lot
The Daily Meal is always seeking to discover people and places in Charleston that are somewhat under the radar, so when we connected with Chef Alex Lira of The Lot, we knew this was someone that deserved some attention. The Lot is not on the beaten path nor are they doing things of the norm in Charleston but they seem to have found their groove. Located next to the popular music hall The Pour House, the small space takes on the personality of a hippie-esque inspired locale. Minimal work went into the art, the décor or the space itself but it doesn’t need it. Outside seating is plentiful with a front and back patio which takes on a whole new life as it is surrounded by plants and fencing. It feels like you are dining in a tree house, not a restaurant.
We love the menu as it changes daily and is not printed but written on chalkboards to read as you walk in. Chef Lira brings his experience at places like Craft and Marlow & Sons in New York and surprises you with dishes that are not mainstream and often times nothing seen before. Everything is fresh—so fresh you can sometimes find remnants of the garden on the veggies—and that is all right with us.
For this first installment of Under the Radar, we had the chance to sit down with Lira to learn more about his upbringing and vision for the future.
The Daily Meal: Tell us about yourself! How did you get into cooking?
Alex Lira: I was raised by a “strong” cook as a mother and my “ya-ya” (Greek grandmother) was always making things from fresh to eat. Lots of soups, lots of soups. So when I went to college, I decided to pursue the culinary arts and got a culinary degree from a community college in Norfolk, VA. I moved to Richmond for a little while but then knew I wanted to go to a big “food” city and chose New York.
What was it like in New York?
It was everything I thought it would be and more. I got the chance to work at some great places like Craft, under Chef Tom Colicchio, where I worked at every station for one solid year. I then moved to Brooklyn in 2004 and worked for Marlow & Sons and Diner as a line cook for three years. I learned a ton there and eventually moved to their butchershop where I worked for two years. It was during this time that I learned about whole animal butchery and how to utilize every part of the animal — nose to tail. I was able to build their charcuterie program for the restaurants and retail. All of these skills and opportunities are incorporated into what I do at The Lot.
So why did you leave New York?
I was tired of the city life and wanted to get to a beach. I wanted to have a slower pace, surf more and ride my motorcycle around somewhere pretty. I knew I wanted to live in a food city and Charleston had all those things and more!
So you move to Charleston and what?
Some of my buddies connected me with Chef Craig Deihl and I went to work at Cypress until I found my own place. I met with the owners of The Pour House and we had the same vision for the place. So we worked together to create and concept the restaurant.
And what is the concept exactly?
We first worked on a concept for the music crowd more focused around “street food”. We soon realized that it was not the right fit and we did the menu I wanted to do. A menu that changes daily that featured lots of curing, lots of whole animal and lots of fresh items based on what is growing and available that day. We use mostly all local purveyors, most of which delivery to us to and from their trips to the city. We are proud of our price point and we are able to not be as expensive as some downtown places because our rent allows us more flexibility.
What are some opportunities you see for the restaurant?
I would love to capitalize more on the music and that connection. Lots of musicians are super into food and those fans too appreciate what we are doing. We would love to have more music based collaborations with who is playing at The Pour House, a la Jason Isbell, and then have it be top of mind for the fans to come and eat before the music.
On that note, it is hard during sound check to keep our guest happy. Imagine the loud and disruptive banging that sometimes happens — we admit it is sometimes a challenge but we work hard to make sure the experience at The Lot is strong on the food and beverage side so that the little interruption doesn’t take a toll.
[Note: We went for dinner one night and found out one of our favorite childhood bands was playing the same night. It was an amazing night to eat a great meal with terrific wines and then head over to the show. The sound check was not an issue — it was a cool part of the overall experience. A home run for sure—one we will come back for and plan better around.]
What is your goals for the future?
That everyone comes to see us. We know it is a little out of the way, but we want to be that place locals come to for great, fresh, inventive food. We also hope that the food and beverage industry continue to come to on their nights off to get some good quality food. That’s all.
The Lot is open Monday through Saturday for dinner service with a Sunday Brunch. Be sure to follow them on twitter to see the menu of the day @thelotchs.