Most cultures throughout history have included some version of a pocket sandwich or pastry wrapped around meat, cheese, and other fillings. There's the Russian pierogi, the Texan kolache, and the bierock, or as it's known in Nebraska, the runza. Pocket sandwiches are great because it's an entire meal in an easy to eat form. It's filling and tasty (there's no version of meat, cheese, and the bread that doesn't taste good, really), and especially warm, it's excellent comfort food.
What is a Runza Sandwich?
If you've never heard of runza, let us introduce you to this traditional Cornhusker specialty. The runza got its start from German immigrants (both Germans native to Germany and Germans who had lived in Russia) to the American midwest. This stuffed sandwich was inspired by the pierogi but is made with a yeasted bread dough instead of a dumpling.
The runza sandwich is a bun stuffed with ground beef and cabbage. It was widely made in Nebraskan home kitchens; it wasn't until after World War II that the runza took the leap from homemade specialty to fast food.
Why is Runza located mostly in Nebraska?
Sally Brening Everett, the daughter of a family who came to Nebraska from Germany by way of Russia, started a food stand in 1949 in Lincoln, Nebraska, working with her brother and brother-in-law. She not only fine-tuned the original runza recipe, but she also trademarked the name.
In 1966, her son started expanding on the first Runza store by building a second location in Lincoln. There are now 85 Runza locations, though they've kept it more or less local, with clusters in the eastern part of the state around Lincoln and Omaha. 80 of the Runza restaurants are located in Nebraska; only Iowa, Kansas, and Colorado are lucky enough to have one or two locations of the restaurant chain.
The Runza fast food restaurants sell other typical fast food: onion rings, chicken strips, cinnamon rolls, and fries. But don't let the "fast" in fast food fool you--they make the runzas fresh every day. (Which is good, because apparently when there's a University of Nebraska home game, they can sell thousands of the stuffed sandwiches at the school's Memorial Stadium.)
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Other restaurants and cafes in Nebraska sell the sandwich with variations, such as with Swiss cheese or sauerkraut. There may be as many runza recipes as there are Nebraskans.
You can easily find great runza, or bierock, recipes and try making your own. But if you're road tripping on I-80 through the great state of Nebraska, we recommend stopping at a place or three and taking a taste for yourself.