July 28, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Nebraskans Know There's No Substitute for Runza | Noshtalgia

Warren Rojas/CQ Roll Call
It’s almost impossible to find an authentic Midwestern runza in the area, but the pirozhki from Rus Uz in Arlington are a delicious, if not exact, substitute.

There’s nothing worse than disappointing a good friend.

Unless, of course, said letdownee happens to also be an award-winning dining critic who has faithfully entrusted an overly ambitious, fellow food sleuth with sniffing out a long lost taste of home that’s eluded his well-traveled palate for ages.

Such proved to be the case with my first full-blown Noshtalgia fail: runza.

It’s A Family Affair

Washington Post food writer Tim Carman casually mentioned the Midwestern staple just as the two of us began plowing through a Kenyan feast of grilled meats, saucy vegetables and oven-fresh baked goods.

Come to think of it, it wouldn’t surprise me if the steamy, meat-filled samosas we greedily gobbled up that evening — chased with swigs of ice cold African lager, ‘natch — may have actually triggered his sudden stroll down memory lane.

According to Carman, the trademarked sandwiches are part and parcel of growing up in Nebraska — an assessment wholly endorsed by Omaha-World Herald food scribe Sarah Baker Hansen.

As her paper explained back in 2009, an enterprising local woman attempted to turn the multicultural mash up into a household name:

“This savory beef-cabbage creation is actually hundreds of years old. It’s a German-Russian invention known as the bierock.

“The late Sarah ‘Sally’ Everett of Lincoln coined the name Runza as an abbreviated approximation for what her family called the cocoon of dough enveloping a cooked mixture of ground beef and chopped cabbage. Everett opened the first Runza restaurant in Lincoln in 1949 with her brother.”

Six decades into the experiment, Runza Restaurants appear to be doing just fine. The burgeoning chain currently consists of 80-plus outlets spread across Nebraska, Colorado, Iowa and Kansas. The group has also branched out beyond its eponymous anchor, adding more familiar fast food items (such as custom burgers, onion rings) to its repertoire.

Per Hansen, the original recipe (“The traditional filling is what is in the classic — ground beef and cabbage inside a puffy bread bun,” she noted) has been joined by several genre-blending spin-offs, a carte that includes a cheese-filled version, Swiss-mushroom medley, cheeseburger-like creation and barbecue-bacon construct.

Locals have even taken to putting their own stamp on things, tinkering with fillings and slapping together spur-of-the-moment tributes at will.

“There are tons of recipes out there for runzas, particularly in things like church cookbooks and the like,” Hansen said.

Carman appears to have benefitted from that same pioneering spirit.

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