The man who ate Lincoln Rd got a text the other day from light-ent vet Jeremy Wells. "Bro," he wrote, "reading about The Man Who Ate Lincoln Rd makes my heart yearn for another crawl."
Vivid memories of wandering around downtown at dawn, stupefied by alcohol, didn't come flooding back. But I remembered the broad outline.
A good 10 years ago or thereabouts I went on a pub crawl with Jeremy and our colleague at the Eating Media Lunch TV show, Lee Baker. We were the men who drank Symonds St. The event began in style at the Langham at around 8pm, descended into various hells - Shadows at the University, the house bar at a whorehouse - and ended as first light turned the harbour from black to grey.
Good times. Jeremy's remark was insightful - this entire series on Lincoln Rd is another kind of crawl, a similarly epic journey which deranges the senses.
But it's about food, not drink. It's solo, not an armed force. And it's spread over a year, not a long night's journey into day.
His text spurred me into action. I thought: oh get a move on. I thought: crawl quicker.
And so I arrived at Lincoln Rd on Tuesday with ambitions to eat a stripmall.
There are five stripmalls on Lincoln Rd, with another on the way. Lincoln North is perhaps the most depressing. It's opposite the mega spiritually dead zones of Pak N Save and Mitre 10, those yellow and orange barns which take up a lot of space and kind of make you want to kill yourself. The feeling lingered at my first stop - Columbus Coffee.
It's a successful, New Zealand-run franchise, with 66 stores nationwide. The one in Riccarton won the public vote last year. Columbus got in early on the espresso slophouse scene, when the first store opened in 1994 in downtown Auckland. It prides itself on good coffee. I ordered tea and almond orange cake for $8.40. It was so-so.
The place was cold (one of the waitresses was wrapped in a scarf and hoodie), and loud as hell - the doors were open to the street. The colour scheme of yellow and black made it feel like I was in an aisle at Pak N Save. The menu included "our chef's seasonal special": mince on toast. Something called a "shepard's pie" sat like a fat white lump in the trays, alongside a fat brown lump of sausage roll.
A little further down the road there's the warm, elegant surrounds of The Coffee Club.
Columbus is more like a truck stop. You'd take your Nana to The Coffee Club; Columbus is more like where you'd take Uncle Festus and Cousin Zeke. Rating: 5/10.
Still, it was packed, and friendly. There wasn't a lot going on around the corner at Kings Roast, a bare, freezing little space where I ordered a $6.50 pork sandwich. A woman came in with no shoes, and socks like gloves - I stared at her ten toes in wool. There was an advertisement on the wall: "Got a visa problem? Talk to Kay Luv Immigration."
I sat beside an abandoned food tray. The doors were sellotaped shut; dead bugs lay in the corner. It once housed things like a chicken pizza roll, and a bacon and "avacado" bun. It was now a ghost food tray, and an apt metaphor for Kings Roast.
Roast meals used to be the next big thing. You could hardly move for roast shops in Auckland; they did awesome meals at low prices, with gravy and peas and everything, and they were always packed. Few have survived. What happened? Why did the bottom fall out?
My pork sandwich was okay. I got half with gravy, the other half with apple sauce. They didn't bother to put on salt or pepper, but there were sachets at the counter. The crackling was very good. Rating: 6/10.
I washed it down a few doors along at Tank. At last, somewhere warm, and clean. Tank is a brilliant franchise. It opened in 2001 and there's now over 50 stores throughout New Zealand; it's the healthy option, with its sugar-free drinks. I had a $5.50 Funky Monkey banana smoothie. It was excellent. Rating: 7/10.
But it was lacking something: sugar. I corrected that state of affairs with a visit to Dunkin' Donuts, where I ordered a $4.40 six-pack of munchkin mini-doughnuts (four Bavarian, a glazed, a coconut chocolate) and a $2.90 cup of kind of filter coffee. Both were first-class.
This is another winning franchise. I'm staggered, though, that there are only 16 stores in New Zealand - most in Auckland, others in Hamilton and Rotorua. This would be a massive hit anywhere in the country; surely travellers have noticed the two funky Dunkin' Donuts stations at Auckland domestic airport, and a third at the international terminal, and thought to themselves: mmm doughnuts. And then: hmm must open a franchise.
The Lincoln Rd store does hot dogs, "dunkalatte" coffee, and the manager's special doughnut this week was chocolate flour with vanilla buttercream. I love munchkins. Rating: 8/10.
I was just about full, but needed a top-up, so I got a $5 classic at Pizza Hut. This is a big call, but I'm making it: Pizza Hut do the best pizza in town. The crust is at once soft and crunchy. The mozzarella stretches towards infinity. It's the pizza that has found perfection, and does it every single time. Plus the Lincoln Rd store has TV, and I watched Dr Phil ask a shifty looking individual, "Are you attempting to poison your wife?" Rating: 9/10.
There you have it. Five food joints in one crawl. Next week: six, from dusk till dawn.
STEVE'S EARLIER ADVENTURES ON LINCOLN ROAD:
• Episode 1: Entering heart attack alley
• Episode 2: Moto sushi
• Episode 3: Sierra
• Episode 4: Sal's Pizza
• Episode 5: Langtons On Lincoln
• Episode 6: Nando's Chicken
• Episode 7: The man who ate Lincoln Rd's doughnut dilemma
• Episode 8: The man who ate Lincoln Rd rates Eves Pantry
• Episode 9: The man who ate Lincoln Rd rates Burger King
• Episode 10: Bad times at Burger Fuel
• Episode 11: Mr Burger
• Episode 12: Saaj
• Episode 13: The little guys on Lincoln
• Episode 14: The Coffee Club
• Episode 15: Subway
• Episode 16: Carl's Jr.
• Episode 17: Mitre 10's café
• Episode 18: La Porchetta
• Episode 19: BBQ Hut Nood Les
•All views expressed are the author's.