Have you ever heard of Runza? This Midwestern sandwich inspired an entire fast food chain
Why is a sandwich so much better when it comes completely wrapped in bread? We’re not talking about a split hoagie, a pita or a wrap, and certainly not a calzone. We mean a pocket of fresh, doughy bread filled with something you can’t see. Something wonderful. A treasure waiting to be unlocked. All you know is that it’s hot and it sure smells good. And maybe that’s part of the appeal: the surprise that awaits inside.
What is a Runza?
So let’s say you bite into that soft crust, tear open the doughy mantle and release a core of melted American cheese. Inside is fatty, seasoned, buttery ground beef mixed with grilled onions and cabbage, yes, cabbage.
This is the wonder of the runza, a rectangular pocket of yeast dough filled with minced meat, cabbage and other fixings for a grab-and-go meal that, like Tater Tot Hot Dish, Dorothy Lynch Homestyle Dressing and dessert salads, is unique to midwest
Where did Runza originate?
It is the cabbage that firmly roots this delicacy in the soil of Nebraska, where German-Russian immigrants settled in the late 19th century. One of the recipes they brought was the bierock, a pocket pastry sandwich filled with savory ingredients, sometimes including sauerkraut. No one knows where the name “runza” came from (perhaps from the Low German “runsa” meaning “bun-shaped”, or the soft shape of a round belly), but in 1949, two descendants of a of these immigrant families, Sally Everett and her brother Alex Brening, opened the first Runza Drive Inn in Lincoln, Nebraska, serving the family’s version of the sandwich.
What is the fast food chain called Runza?
Today, there are more than 80 Runza fast food restaurants spanning four states: Iowa, Kansas, Colorado and, of course, Nebraska, whose residents have largely adopted the delicacy as an unofficial state dish. The franchise has trademarked the word “runza,” but you can still find old-school bierocks on the Great Plains. The difference lies not so much in the ingredients as in the shape: bierocks are round and runzas (runzas? runzi?) are rectangular.
But Runza is by far the easiest place to find them, and for our money, the most worthwhile. The deliciousness comes in all sorts of varieties, from mushroom and swiss to spicy jack to barbecue bacon, but we recommend the runza cheese, the beef-onion-and-cabbage original with melted American cheese. Don’t worry – it’s a delicious surprise even if you know what’s inside.
If you can’t make it to the homeland of the runza, there’s always the home cooking route, with the traditional hand-made runzas or the runza casserole for the crowd.