Friday, September 12, 2008

My Run to Runza

Hi , out there! I'm finally back in the blog grid. I've had an incredibly busy several weeks spent primarily on nesting in my new house. It takes a lot of elbow grease, flea market/Craig's list shopping, curtain making, furniture re-arranging, box unpacking, and picture hanging to make a house into a home. I'm almost there. Today's nesting culminated in the delivery (thanks, Toby!) of a vintage silver-gray couch, in pristine condition that I bought on Craig's list for the ridiculously cheap sum of $40. But before I show you around my new kitchen, which is perhaps the best feature of this house, I want to spend some time recounting the food adventures I had on the way to my new home in Ohio. Mainly, I want to tell you about the foodways I traveled with friends and family in Nebraska, my home state.

My Nebraska food adventures began with my run to Runza.

If you know what a Runza is, then you're probably a Nebraskan (although Runza chains do exist in other Midwestern places like South Dakota and Kansas). Runza the restaurant, named after its signature stuffed sandwich, is an iconic Nebraska fast food franchise started in 1949 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Read more about Runza's history here. The minute I made it to my sister's house, the first thing we did was go out to Runza. I realize that after eschewing fast food my entire road trip, this may make me something of a hypocrite. However, in my defense, Runza is the closest I've seen fast food get to the slow food movement. Although this may be just clever marketing copy from their web page, one of my sister's friends actually worked at Runza when he was in high school, and he confirms each franchise does make their own Runza's from scratch!
So apparently, the homemade difference is no lie. But, why am I getting so insanely excited about a Runza? What exactly am I getting all worked up about? A Runza is simply seasoned ground beef, onions, and cabbage enclosed in a yeast dough and baked. It's a hot pocket without the microwave, a calzone for the non-Italian, an empanada for the initiated, a piroshki that isn't Greek to me. A Runza is utterly delicious.

For $1.99, this little packet of pastry was every bit as good as I remember as a child. It's savory and simple like the best comfort food should be. The onion and cabbage are slowly cooked until they obtain a translucent, near transcendence creaminess, which contrasts nicely with the meaty heartiness of the beef. I couldn't say what the "secret seasonings" are that Runza claims they use, but I'm guessing that it can't be anything more fancy than fresh ground black pepper and a little Kosher salt.

Simplicity aside, the Runza is also adaptable in infinite combinations. (There are several different variations on the classic available--the one with Swiss cheese, which my sister ordered, is very nice.) In elementary school, the cafeteria used to serve Bunza's, a non-trademarked version of the Runza that had a Velveeta-like cheese in it in addition to the cabbage and ground beef. My mom makes a casserole version that uses refrigerated pastry dough for the crust. (Mom, if you're reading this, feel free to post the recipe for all of us Runza addicts out there.)

So, if you're ever in Nebraska, and you see a Runza restaurant, know that you can stop and get delicious food. Coming from someone who hasn't eaten at a McDonald's in 9 years, this should mean something. Or maybe it just means that sentimentality can sometimes cloud my better judgment. Either way, my Runza was delicious and comforting in a way that I'd argue a Big Mac, cannot be, but you'll have to judge for yourself.


Anonymous said...

This makes me hungry for Runzas and may have to make my version of the casserole. I didn't know you haven't eaten at McDoanld's for nine years. I don't eat there very often anymore either. I can't wait to see your other food blogs of Nebraska cuisine. Also, I can't wait to see your kitchen. You know how the casserole recipe goes, crossant dough, cabbage/hamburger/onion mixture and then put American cheese on top, topped by more crossant dough. Very easy and I am very lazy so that is how I make Runzas. They are a great and delicious food though. Mom

holly said...

you are slacking in blog posts. whip yourself back into shape.