It's easy enough to find Dad's Smoke Wagon if you're near Fountain's Super Wal-Mart. But if you go and you should, if you like barbecue let your olfactory sense guide you, because you might miss it relying on sight alone. When you spot a big wagon dwarfing a small eatery in Camden Car Wash's parking lot and sending whiffs of wood smoke into the blue, you've arrived.
Responding to a reader's tip, we found Dad's on a recent Saturday afternoon and returned a few days later for more. On the first visit, our party of four and a few other customers filled the place, but thanks to a focused menu and fast service, we were all eating in under 10 minutes.
Of course we tried the pork spareribs, which come by the full rack ($20, discounted to $16 for the summer between 3 and 7 p.m.) or half rack ($11), or within a more manageable three-bone meal ($7). Owner and chef Larry Neuhalfen dresses his ribs with a dry rub for smoking and finishes them with your choice of mild, sweet or spicy sauce. The ribs delivered on bone-deep smoke flavor and tenderness, and while only a touch of heat came through the spicy sauce, we enjoyed its tanginess.
If ribs sound too decadent, Dad's sandwich menu offers lighter choices without skimping on taste. We tried the beef brisket with spicy sauce, the pork tenderloin well-paired with the sweet sauce and the pulled chicken with mild sauce (all $7). All three bore heaps of juicy, tender meat, and though lean, the sliced tenderloin packed hefty goodness.
Link aficionados might appreciate the house-smoked brats, which we tried on a second visit ($4, or two for $6). But the doughy hot dog bun turned us off, as did the cheap white buns on all the sandwiches. If you decide to have them, hold the bread you'll still have plenty to fill your belly with your choice of a side, a canned soda (sometimes cold) and a pickle.
Dad's serves up a few sides worthy of their meaty counterparts. You'll find no sad little puddle of soupy beans or heap of mayonnaise-smothered potatoes here. The spicy baked beans sport chunks of hot links, and a sweet and mild version stands up to the fork test. While the potato salad eschews the usual eggs, veggies and condiments, it satisfies.
But the bland, mushy rice plain or with teriyaki sauce needs improvement, and the sauce doesn't do it. Dad's also offers garden-variety bagged chips, and pickles that could use some Viagra.
Food aside, the personal touches at Dad's left an overall good impression. We enjoyed chatting with "Dad" Neuhalfen about the restaurant, opened this past November, as he took and filled our order. And when he saw us getting into our car carrying more food left over than consumed, he jogged over for feedback.
Whether you use the drive-through, enjoy the air conditioning and a view of the Front Range inside the rib shack, or dig in at the awning-shaded picnic tables outside, Dad's will deliver on good barbecue that's good to your wallet. That is, once your nose finds the smoke wagon.
Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.;
Monday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.