Greg Alford of C&G’s Smoking Barbecue

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

After 20 years as a Minneapolis auto mechanic, Greg Alford got tired of having cracked knuckles and wrenched wrists every night. He switched careers to something he’d been doing even longer: cooking.

It’s his true calling. At his restaurant, C&G’s Smoking Barbecue at 4743 Nicollet Ave., Alford (top, right) smokes a mean rib, fries a fine wing, and makes delectable sandwiches with a Detroit flavor. Alford, 51, moved to Minnesota in 1984 from Detroit, but he had been cooking long before that. Growing up in Motown, Alford had 11 siblings and started helping in the kitchen at a young age.

“I’ve been cooking actually since I was 5 years old,” Alford said. “I caught on fire when I was 5 cooking grits. I kept going. Figured, ‘Hey, just don’t cook me. Cook the food.’ My mom taught all of us how to cook. There was 12 of us, so we had to learn to take care of each other. She stayed sick a lot in the hospital; there were times she was sick in the hospital two, three months at a time. My dad had to work, so we had to cook. So, you know, we took care of one another.”

He kept it up as an adult and developed a small following for his cooking in his Detroit neighborhood, giving him something to fall back on. His family is originally from Louisiana, so growing up Alford learned Southern tricks from his mother, aunts, and other relatives. Cooking became more and more valuable.

“Used to pay my rent that way,” he said. “I lived in a garage apartment. So I used to pull the grill out to the edge of the driveway, you know, and put a sign out there and sell rib dinners and fish dinners.”

He kept it up after moving to Minnesota. Despite spending his days as owner of an auto shop, Alford never lost his edge, even if it was just in the backyard.

“Just cooking for people, having parties, barbecuing,” he said. “After that, people liked the barbecue, so I figured it would be a good thing to try, the business.”

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Alford smokes his ribs for three hours in his electric smoker and keeps them simple, well-spiced, and tender. City ordinance prohibits wood-burning smokers for new businesses, he said, unless you’re grandfathered in. He’d prefer an outdoor, wood-fired smoker.

“They don’t want you to use charcoal and stuff like that, so you gotta use electric smokers now,” he said. “If they could stop people from barbecuing in the outside, they would.”

At C&G’s, sauce is on the side, as it should be, and Alford’s succulent ribs don’t need it anyway. What’s impressive is the way he gives the entire rack a uniform tenderness: no too-crunchy short ends or semi-tough big ends.

“I think that a barbecue place that puts a lot of barbecue sauce on their ribs is covering up something,” he said. “I can do sauce on rib tips, little bite size, but usually I like my ribs dry. Good ribs, you don’t need sauce. You know, I never really been a sauce person anyway because I could eat a sandwich – just put the meat on the bread. I don’t like a lot of mayo, don’t like a lot of barbecue sauce.

“I think it [no sauce] works better. I know some guys who boil their ribs, put a rub on them, then smoke them. I know some people who fry ribs. Everybody’s got their own way. I just like to smoke mine, with not too much wood smoke in it. Just kid of give it that touch of wood smoke and season them up real good.

“No two ribs are the same. Some thick, some thin, some fattier than other ones, so it all depends. I turn them upside down when I put them in the smoker because the heat rises, so I turn them upside down and with the big end up so the big end cooks quicker than the small end.”

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Now to those Detroit sandwiches. Alford’s menu includes Coney Islands (chili-cheese dogs) and what he calls the Motor City Corned Beef, with or without slaw. It’s basically what Arby’s wishes it could be — slightly pungent, homemade corned beef sliced so thinly you’ll wonder how it has so much flavor. Topped with mustard and slaw on an onion roll, it’s a unique and unexpected treat.

“I like Coney Islands and I like corned beef sandwiches, and a lot of places don’t serve those foods,” he said. “A lot of those foods like the Coney Islands are from Detroit. In Detroit, we eat corned beef on an onion roll. And most places in Minnesota, it’s hard to find a corned beef sandwich on an onion roll. So I figured, that’s something different. See, I don’t like a reuben. Give me the meat, put some mustard on it. See, the onion roll gives it the sweetness of the bun, then you put the mustard on it, you got your bitter taste. Then with the sweet corned beef, it all blends together.

“And it has to be real meat, can’t use that deli meat. Has to be real, cooked corned beef. It’s something different from what everybody else is doing. Everybody’s doing Chicago this, Chicago, Chicago. I figured, hey, let’s put some Detroit in there.”

Alford also fries several kinds of fish in season, including perch, catfish, and even sunnies. The perch is crispy, not at all greasy, and just barely coated in a cornmeal mixture, which doesn’t mask the freshwater flavor of the fish. Even an avowed tartar sauce devotee like myself doesn’t need it with this fish. It’s the best I’ve had in a while. Wings, served sans sauce, are similarly crisp, non-greasy, and perfectly seasoned.

Reflecting on Alford’s menu, it’s clear this is a unique array of foods. A kid from Detroit with Southern roots grows up cooking, basically self-taught, for his huge family, then eventually opens his restaurant in Minnesota. It’s a crafty mix of comfortable and fresh.

So, what’s the most popular item?

“I think my ribs, and the next would be the barbecue beef brisket sandwich,” he said. “They love that, because it’s nice and tender and juicy. A lot of places you go you get beef brisket, it’s dry. And kind of chewy. And so what I do with mine, when I cook it, I cool it and slice it in really thin slices so that makes the beef from being so chewy. When you bite in it, it just melts.

“Everything I put up, like my beans and all that stuff, the greens, man, I’ve been cooking that for years. So I just do it all the same way.”

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

C&G’s Smoking Barbecue
Barbecue in South Minneapolis

4743 Nicollet Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55419
612.825.3400
HOURS:
Sun-Thu 11am-10:30pm
Fri-Sat 11am-11:30pm

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About the Author

Jason Walker

Jason Walker was born and raised in Kansas, where he grew up loving his grandmother’s homemade noodles and weekly fried fish. A summer internship in Milwaukee turned Jason and his wife, Leita, into die-hard fans of the Northwoods culture, and they moved to Minneapolis in 2006. Immediately the quality of food and drink in the Twin Cities was impressive – that even the most unassuming bar usually had a decent menu – and Jason knew he was home. Now living in the Fulton neighborhood with two kids, Jason grows tomatoes, cans voraciously, and badgers his neighbors with conversations about restaurants.

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20 Comments

  1. This place sounds seriously good. Will have to make the trip to check it out this summer. Thanks!

  2. Ribs look really damn good. Must try.

  3. Is it takeout only, or do they have seating? Would be nice to know!

  4. Author
    Jason Walker05/19/2010Reply

    They have seating … about five tables.

  5. I live just down the street and hadn’t heard anything about the “new kid in town.” I now plan on stopping in this weekend to check it out! Thanks for the review!

  6. We really like this place! Please support them-they’re YUM!

  7. Was there last night and it was fantastic. Nice to find a place that has lots of Southern sides too, like mac n cheese, black eyed peas, and fried okra. Unfortunately, the sweet potato pie was sold out, so I’ll have to go back!

  8. Was there last night and it was fantastic. Nice to find a place that has lots of Southern sides too, like mac n cheese, black eyed peas, and fried okra. Unfortunately, the sweet potato pie was sold out, so I’ll have to go back!
    +1

  9. Stu of the BBQ Pit05/20/2010Reply

    These are probably the best BBQ ribs in the Twin Cities. The front of the store is nothing to look at, but, what goes on in the back is the stuff of BBQ magic. Great smoke, juicy perfect chew.
    They need more publicity. This was a very good article. I hope it pumps up the business of the restaurant.

  10. i have been many times, very good ribs and beans. I too hope this article will get more people going as he is a great guy, very friendly. Well worth a trip.

  11. Feel good to have a father that’s a good cook. Keep up the good work

  12. I’ve eaten Greg’s ribs and can attest that they are tender, beautifully seasoned and perfect just as they are- bare. I hope this helps get the word out and keep the man in business. The place is small and so unassuming, but the food is not only delicious, it’s really reasonably priced.

  13. Finally got over there last night. I’ve never encountered ribs like this–they are super meaty (look at the second photo above, of the rib basket, and you’ll see what I mean). I wonder where the meat is from; sure never saw anything like that at the grocery store or even at other BBQ joints. The cooking method gives them a slight chew on the outside, but they remain super tender and juicy throughout. The ones we had contained a fairly noticeable ribbon of fat under the top layer of meat (also visible in the photo above). Some folks will like this, others will not; I think it’s one of the reasons that the ribs are so juicy, so it’s probably just part of the deal.

    The chicken wings were good too… dry-crispy rather than dripping with oil, and a full 3-joint wing (not just a drummie or a single joint). They were accompanied by a spicy vinegar sauce, which was interesting… kind of like a buffalo-type sauce but not thick with ketchup. Really clears the sinuses, like wasabi does.

    Fries appear to be house-made. Ours were somewhat limp as is often the case with homemade fries. They’re nice and potato-ey but if you’re looking for super crisp fries, or if you like battered fries, look elsewhere. The baked beans were awesome, and had ground meat in them… nice touch, although we sure had plenty of meat to eat!

    Also got the “water bread” which was, well, probably an acquired taste. Kind of like a fried corn-pone patty. Not bad, but not something I’d order very often. I see on the takeout menu that they serve the water bread as a side when you order greens… I didn’t see greens on the chalkboard menu or I would have gotten them (heaven knows we could have used some vegetables to offset all the meat!). I bet the water bread would be good with greens, and I hope to try it soon.

    Did not have a chance to try the sandwiches–next time! They sound wonderful.

    Very, very nice people, too… my order took about 20 minutes (because of the wings, I was told) so I hung around and watched TV with the woman behind the counter, who is a super-nice person. Saw Greg and the “C” in C&G (sorry, I don’t know his name) and they were very friendly folks too. I hope this place gets lots of business; it’s a real asset to the area.

  14. I love this place. The hot water bread is my favorite.

  15. C&G’s sounds awesome! Gotta stop here next time I’m in town. Great piece!

  16. So good. Everyone should go. Worth getting a full slab of those bad boys.

  17. Super informative wtirnig; keep it up.

    • Made ribs earlier befroe watching this vid and saw the bottle of mustard in the fridge and pondered firing it onto the ribs but wasn’t sure If it would pan out so I used maple syrup instead turned out pretty damn good

Trackbacks for this post

  1. […] Jason Walker tastes some great BBQ at C&G’s, Katie Cannon hung out with some cows at Zweber Farms, and Ruth Burke kicked off […]

  2. […] website the Heavy Table recently favorably reviewed C G’s Smoking Barbecue (4743 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis), where proprietor Greg Alford “smokes a mean rib, fries a fine […]

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