"Having my smoker parked in front [of my restaurant] is probably my best advertising. On a regular basis people drive by . . . catch a whiff of the smoke and have to U-turn. I have a magnetic sign with my phone number on the side of my truck. They’ll pull up outside thinking I’m just set up in the parking lot and they’ll call me. I tell them turn around and come on in.”
— Chris Galloway
For the last five years, Chris Galloway’s big, booming, bass voice and warm personality have been welcoming patrons through the doorway of G’z Barbecue & Catering at 925 Gallatin Ave. Although the setup at G’z is small and simple — with the counter and kitchen equipment running down the length of one side of the restaurant and a handful of tables and chairs filling the rest of the space — the flavors, traditions, and love in Galloway’s cooking are far bigger.
As owner and head cook at G’z, Galloway makes the short walk, rain or shine, from his front door to his parking lot smoker multiple times each day, doing his part to preserve Nashville’s African- American barbecue traditions. A native Nashvillian, Galloway grew up in South Nashville where he acquired a passion for cooking from his mother and other family members.
“I was raised around a lot of women,” Galloway says. “That led to a lot of time in the kitchen helping out. They never had to ask me to help; in fact it was almost to the point of them saying, ‘Get out of the way!’ As I got older, I knew I wanted to have my own restaurant someday. I would cook for family reunions and throw barbecues at home. When people tried my food they’d say, ‘I would buy that!’ ”
The call of burning wood and slow cooking eventually proved irresistible. By 2013 Galloway was ready to change his passion into a career. He initially envisioned a barbecue food truck, but his plans went awry when a deal to buy a truck fell through at the last minute.
“I was riding down Gallatin, feeling disgusted and mad and happened to see this space for rent,” Galloway says. “It had been a tobacco market and pizza place, so it already had most of the restaurant equipment I needed. I thought, ‘Hey, forget the truck, barbecue restaurant instead.’ It was time to see if East Nashville was ready for the big G.”
From the beginning, Galloway knew that the key to his success would be flavor — not tourist- friendly décor or flashy neon signs. “When I was growing up there were a lot of small, historically black barbecue places,” he says. “Over the years the owners died off, new cooks came in, and the food changed — or the places closed. When I started, most of those small barbecue joints were gone. There were a lot of bigger, chain places in Nashville like Whitt’s, Corky’s, and Bar-B-Cutie, but I wanted to highlight the home-cooked, African-American, Tennessee style that I learned from my mom.”
In addition to barbecue staples like beef brisket, pulled pork, ribs, and chicken, Galloway has expanded with a number of unusual and unique specialty items (only available on specific days) like smoked meatloaf; smoked, deep-fried, Cajun-spiced chicken wings; and his heavenly Shoulder Mac — macaroni and cheese made with six cheeses and layered with pulled pork. G’z also serves a variety of seasonal dishes, including smoked turkey hash and brisket chili during winter, and smoked chicken tetrazzini and smoked turkey for the summer months. Galloway’s side items are where he really demonstrates his smoking genius.
“I try to incorporate smoke into most of my side items,” Galloway says. “Smoked cabbage is my number one signature side item, but I also use smoke in preparing collard greens, green beans, corn on the cob and more. I just try different things, and the flavor of the smoke transforms everything.”
While smoke may be the most important tangible ingredient that goes into G’z barbecue, it isn’t just a simple matter of heat, smoke, and chemistry. Galloway’s true secret ingredient is the care and love he brings to cooking — a process he learned firsthand in those crowded kitchens of his youth.
“I cook for people to make them feel like they’re at home,” Galloway says. “When you come to G’z Barbecue, I want you to have that home experience — like you’re sitting down at your grandma’s house.”