The Fourth of July is this Friday and, in the spirit of American Independence Day, we went looking for all things Stateside-inspired in our lovely city. It wasn't hard. Casual dining seems to be the only way to eat these days, so sliders, tacos, ribs and wings are becoming staples on menus everywhere. And on the retail front, retro and contemporary American threads are far more visible, too. There's now also several places to buy US groceries if it takes your fancy - pop tart, cheetos or barbecue sauce anyone? Here's our round-up of some of the places to eat, drink and shop American-style in Auckland.
Rachael Pilcher, owner of Rita Sue vintage clothing store in St Kevin's Arcade, Auckland. Photo / NZH
General Issue in Botany, Sylvia Park, Newmarket and Albany malls is super popular with fans of iconic American brand Abercrombie and Fitch. USA Direct shops seem to be popping up quicker than you can say stars and stripes. The first one was in Manukau and several more have opened nationwide since. Craig Jones, owner says: "I've always been in clothing but it became a pretty tough market so we went for something with a point of difference - US-branded gear like Dickies, Vans, Converse and all the sports team apparel, all at discounted prices. It has really taken off, so much so we've started doing selected grocery items as well. American gear is definitely very popular right now."
If you're looking for something a bit more classic, the lovely Rita Sue in St Kevins arcade has pin-up American glamour from the 50s and 60s. Owner Rachael Pilcher imports vintage replicas from the States. "Lots of wiggle and swing dresses and all the shapewear and petticoats to go under them. We started as online-only but demand has got higher as more women are looking for clothing that flatters their curves and makes them look glamorous and feminine."
And if you want genuine US vintage, the members of Labretta Suede collect original authentic American-made clothing and curios while on tour in the States and sell them here under the name Cockspurs Vintage. Check their facebook page to make sure they're in town before you head out west.
"We have always loved all things American," says lead singer, Labretta. "We've really noticed since we came back to live here again, everyone's into it now - it's great!
Burgerfuel was the only kind of American experience you could have before, but the scene has definitely grown."
• General Issue Supply Company, 26 Nuffield St, Newmarket, Botany Town Centre, Sylvia Park Shopping Centre, Albany Mega Centre.
• USA Direct, 49 Cavendish Drive, Manukau, Dress Smart Onehunga and Westgate.
• Rita Sue, Shop 20, St Kevins Arcade, 179 Karangahape Rd.
• Cockspurs Vintage, 15 Croydon Rd, New Lynn.
Britomart's Better Burgers offers high-quality fare.
Burgers are synonymous with the U-S of A and these meals in a bun are certainly making a comeback in Auckland. Recently opened Better Burger is doing a roaring trade less than two months after opening. Venue manager Deena Willis says people love burgers but are becoming less and less satisfied with the processed ingredients big chains use. "Our burgers have buns from Bread & Butter, Curious Cropper tomatoes and great quality angus mince and we cut our potatoes on site for our fries - and all for the same prices as the well-known chains."
It reminds us of the Burger Joint in New York or In-N-Out Burger in California. Don't ask for anything outside of fries, burgers, sodas (no diet please!) and shakes as they don't do it. True old-school Americana.
Ponsonby Central's Burger Burger is a bit posher, and less purist American, but still has a great casual Stateside vibe, with its open kitchen, great fit-out and cracking soundtrack. Again, quality ingredients are to the fore (the Il Forno buns take it to a new level) and they employ classic cooking techniques like slow-cooking lamb. "Everyone likes burgers, right?" says part-owner Mimi Gilmour. "But we wanted somewhere where you could go and have a beer and a kick-ass burger at the same time." Well the burgers are kick-ass for sure - some of the best in town, we'd even say.
On the pizza front, sadly Epolitos has closed its doors but Sal's Pizza seems to be expanding rapidly, A new branch is planned for Henderson next month and two are in the CBD already. We like the fact they promise that if their New York-style pizza isn't the best you've ever tasted, they'll give you your money back. Bold words.
Stars and stripes to the fore at Martha's Backyard. Photo / HOS
Martha's Backyard, an American grocery shop in Mt Wellington, is the brainchild of Sandy Graham, an American far from home. Shop assistants say a lot of regulars come in for their fix of Twinkies, Fritos, Pop Tarts, EOS Lipbalm and more. "I love it when someone comes in for the first time and squeals with delight finding touches of home they haven't seen for a while. They sometimes even have a tear," says Graham. "I know what it's like living away from home and missing the things you're used to."
Online-only store USA Foods, based in Onehunga, brings in all kinds of grocery items.
"It's all about cupcake mixes at the moment," says owner, Mike Perry. "They are flying out the door." And if you're looking for American-style bread, head to a Pukeko Bakery stand at almost all major Auckland markets and at shops in Browns Bay, Mairangi Bay and Parnell. Jason Olmstead comes from Colorado and alongside his famous San Francisco sourdough, has just started doing brioche burger buns, brioche sliders, long soft hot dog buns, hoagies, po' boys and philly cheese steak buns and Jewish rye for Reubens and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Southern and Tex Mex
Miss Clawdy in Wynyard Quarter. Photo / NZH
This category has expanded rapidly over the past couple of years. If you're looking for fun cocktails, Southern American-style bites and somewhere for a good time with friends, there's Miss Clawdy at North Wharf and Orleans at Britomart (think po' boys, gumbo, street corn, chicken waffle, fish tacos and the like). Orleans, in particular, has gone for the dark, bluesy southern feel, complete with great live jazz (try their Gin Fizz while you listen. You won't regret it).
Bonz Cajun Kitchen in Elliot Stables is not as big on the nightlife side of things but has excellent food.
American Rob Aylwin's ribs might be the best we've tasted in a very long time; he has, after all, trained extensively in the "deep south" itself to perfect his craft. Also there's a cheeky little American Freedom Food stall in Henderson Night Markets which does some killer Buffalo wings - complete with traditional blue cheese dip and celery. Well worth checking out.
Then of course, there's Tex Mex. Franchises such as Chilando, Mad Mex and Mexicali Fresh are sprouting up in malls and inner-city locations at a rapid rate, further confirming the increasing love for this category in Auckland (we're pretty fond of Mexicali Fresh, we have to say). There's also more "restaurant" style places such as Bandito in Kingsland, Dos Amigos in Mission Bay and the long-standing Mexican Cafe.
Quality and style vary across the board but we like to follow new openings on Auckland Burrito Review on Facebook. Over the past three years, Colenso creative Ben Polkinghorne has dedicated his time to checking out every new burrito that appears in our city and penning his thoughts. "It's a community service," he smirks, trying to be deadpan, "my way of giving back to Auckland". Polkinghorne has now gathered quite a following and is sometimes even asked to open new Tex Mex stores around town.
• Miss Clawdy, 12 Jellicoe St North, Wynyard Quarter.
• Orleans, 48 Customs St East, Britomart.
• Bonz Cajun Kitchen, Elliot Stables, 41 Elliot St.
• American Freedom Food Stall, Henderson Night Markets, under Waitakere Plaza, 25 Newington Rd, Henderson.
• Auckland Burrito Review
Diners, Delis and Garages
Taylor Compain waits on tables at Al Brown's Federal Delicatessen in her retro-style uniform. Photo / HOS
Of course it wouldn't be a round-up of Americana in Auckland without a mention of Al Brown's Federal Delicatessen, near the foot of the Sky Tower. For anyone raised on a diet of 60s and 70s American films, this place will make you feel as if you've been transported. It's all here, from the waitresses' uniforms to the pastrami on rye and the rather divine New York Style-baked cheesecake. The bagels come from Al's Best Ugly Bagels in City Works Depot and, while more Montreal in style, they are filled with some very tasty American fillings (the lox is cured in house, as is the pastrami). Even better, it's open until 1am.
For the late-night crowd there's also Late Night Diner in Ponsonby. Its American-influenced menu is not totally American, but the more health conscious can pop into Michael Van de Elzen's Food Truck Garage (also of City Works Depot) for burgers, tacos, sliders, salads and baby hot dogs with a twist.
• Federal Delicatessen, 86 Federal St, Auckland.
• Best Ugly Bagels, City Works Depot, Cnr Wellesley and Nelson Sts
• Late Night Diner, 152b Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby.
• Food Truck Garage, City Works Depot, Cnr Wellesley and Nelson Sts.