When heading south on U.S. Highway 85 in Security, a left turn will bring you onto Main Street, where a Sonic Drive-In and its faux-'50s glow directly contrasts with the real thing across the road.
Long a staple of the area, the half-century-old Kwik Inn enjoyed a rebirth in 2009, when Larry "Dad" Neuhalfen and his son Larry Jr. combined the pair's small barbecue spot with all things greasy-goodness, creating Dad's Kwik Inn Diner.
So, was the transition hard?
"It was more than hard," says the senior Neuhalfen. "We went from a seven-seat restaurant [at Dad's Smokewagon in Fountain] — this one, we seat 100. We went from doing pretty much everything ourselves, and we now have about 22 employees. Plus, we went six days a week to seven days a week, and we added breakfast and all kinds of stuff."
The "all kinds of stuff" Neuhalfen mentions is uncomplicated, but totally satisfying. Dishes like the sweat-inducing Spanish omelet ($7.95) which boasts chunky, egg-wrapped green chilies, onions, jalapeños, cheese and salsa.
Or the bad-ass Front Range Mountain Man ($9.95), a monstrosity of 10 ounces of beef ground on-site, sweet house-made barbecue sauce, bacon, gooey American cheese, lettuce, tomato and freakin' onion rings. This Goliath took both hands, six napkins, two iced tea refills and a fork to finish.
The ensuing food coma offered a chance to take in the surroundings. A glass wall display case in the doorway shows an old Kwik Inn menu, from back when steaks cost less than two bucks. The ceiling slants in toward a standard diner counter with red stools while, above it, small toy cars are stacked on a ledge lined with Christmas lights. Specials are posted on a whiteboard, and various notices are taped to the walls and signed "Dad." The rest of the room is filled with tables and a large blinking Christmas tree, and the overhead music ranges from "Rock You Like a Hurricane" to gospel sung by one John R. Cash.
It's a comforting spot to take in the signature barbecue. The three-meat, two-side option ($16.95) yields satisfying, subtly spiced pulled pork, chopped brisket and ribs, and wonderfully mushy smoked baked beans. The pork and brisket are rubbed with garlic, black pepper and brown sugar and then smoked over ash wood for 24 hours in the old mobile smoke wagon in the back. It's a quiet flavor that's best when covered in the thick sweet or spicy barbecue sauces the Neuhalfens make.
Otherwise, the chopped brisket and grilled hot links in the Smokewagon sandwich ($8.95) are nice and meaty on Texas toast, and the chicken-fried steak and eggs ($8.95) arrive fresh out of the fryer, doggedly covered in a salty sausage gravy and cooked to order. Sandwich-wise, the Southwest turkey melt ($7.95) is better than it has any right to be, with smoky, grilled turkey breast and pepper jack cheese pairing perfectly with the bright, fruity burst of Anaheim green chiles.
For dessert, slices of cold apple and lemon meringue pie ($3.50) work just fine, which seems to be the feeling you get across the board.
"We've cleaned this thing up," says Neuhalfen. "We've done some remodeling — mostly aesthetics, nothing structural, you know. It's just looking a lot better.
"We're just trying to keep it a local hometown-kind-of-diner, like it was back in 1956."