Ode to Runza

Today, I had a crazy day filled with meetings. My second meeting got done a little early so I had time to grab lunch before my third meeting. Just my luck, my meeting was across the street from one of my favorite Nebraska restaurants – Runza ®.

I grew up in a small college town called Wayne. (Actually, my mother and I didn’t move to Wayne until I was in high school.) Wayne didn’t have a McDonalds when I was high school. But I remember when they opened Runza. For those of you who have never heard of Runza, this is the restaurant’s signature dish. It is dough filled with hamburger, onion, and cabbage. Now, I know you think that sounds awful but it isn’t. In fact, the restaurant has several versions including a Cheese Runza, Mushroom and Swiss, and BBQ version. A Runza is a Czechoslovakian dish. I know Nebraska had a lot of Czech immigrants, like my Grandpa Bourek. Many of those people celebrate their Czech heritage at annual events like the Czech Festival in Wilber, NE or enjoying a kolache from the Saturday Farmer’s Market.  I’m assuming the restaurant was started in 1949 to meet the taste of those immigrants.

My Grandpa Bourek was 10 years old when his family moved to northeast Nebraska from Czechoslovakia. My Grandfather died of a heart attack just before my fourth birthday so I have to admit, I don’t really know a lot about him. Most of my actual memories of my Grandfather are my memories of his funeral. I do know that he was a veteran of World War II. My Grandma (Ellen) did not know Karl but saw his name in the local paper. (Remember the days back when people used to write letters to service men and women fighting in wars abroad?) Ellen wrote letters to Karl when he was oversees. Obviously, they dated when he returned and got married. I also know my Grandpa was a custodian at Pilger Elementary School. During his time there, he met another custodian who was new to the US from Czechoslovakia. That man was George Korbel. When I was in Junior High, George was the custodian at Wisner-Pilger Jr.-Sr. High School. George used to chase my sister and I around the school with his work cart calling us Stefphone and Ambrow.  George also told us stories about my Grandpa Bourek and how he befriended him. My Grandpa spoke Czech with George and taught him about the culture. Although I never really got a chance to know my Grandpa Bourek, it’s nice to hear he left such a good impression on a new immigrant family.

Both my Grandma and Grandpa Bourek have passed away now. But I’m really proud of my aunts for keeping the family together. Every holiday, Joyce and Linda take turns hosting meals for whoever can make it. And every holiday, they make sauerkraut. I can’t say I eat it as I can’t get past the smell of it. However, it is a constant reminder of my Czech heritage and that my father is a first generation American.

Last year, Kansas City finally got a Runza location (6000 Lamar, Mission, KS). I have to admit, I love going there. I have lot of memories from my college days – including a first date at Rock n’ Roll Runza with Frat Boy and a Residential Hall Association Awards Banquet at Top of the Rock. I also have fond memories of the really nice railroaders who were kind enough to pick me up a Runza meal when I was working at the hotel. (It was especially nice because I didn’t get meal breaks and I usually worked all day between my two jobs.) But I also love the food: Legendary Cheeseburger made with real ground beef and salt/peppered to perfection, Polish Dogs, Crinkle Cut Fries, Homemade Onion Rings, Cinnamon Rolls, etc. Have I made you want to check out this restaurant yet? Need any more reasons – every Tuesday in February, a Runza cost the price of what the temperature was that day at 6AM. So if it is 19 degrees at 6AM, you can get an original Runza for $.19. How cool is that? Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the wonderful service. One of the employee’s bisseling the floor offered to remove my tray of trash, leaving me with more work space to compose my thoughts between meetings. What are you waiting for?

I decided to provide you with a recipe similar to a Runza today as my salute to this great fast food joint. It isn’t exactly a Runza but it has all the same ingredients. This recipe comes from the “Homemade with Love” cookbook created by Our Saviors Lutheran Church in Wayne, NE (my Grandpa Fletcher’s Wayne Church).

Cabbage Roll Deep Dish by Nettie Hammer

1lb. ground beef
¼ c. onion
2 c. shredded cabbage
1 tube refrigerated crescent rolls
1 pkg. mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Brown beef and onion. When browned, add cabbage to top and let steam. Spray 8 x 8 dish with nonstick spray. Spread half the can of crescent rolls in the bottom of the pan. Add ground beef, onion, and cabbage. Layer with cheese. Top with remaining crescent rolls. Bake at 400 to 425 degrees for 20 minutes or until brown. Cover with foil the last 5 minutes for a soften crust.

Recipe modifications

  • If you don’t want to try cabbage and onions, I would recommend removing those ingredients and mixing in a can of cream of mushroom soup with ground beef.  

5 responses

  1. My back in the day story for today: Before there was a Runza restaurant, while I was a student at Wayne State, on Saturdays a few of my friends and I would walk downtown to shop for fabric and patterns at Ben Franklin, Kuhn’s, Mc Donalds Department Store, then stop at Vel’s Bakery for runzas. I had never had them before I came to Nebraska. Oh, and we always ordered a glass of milk to go with them, too. Then back up the hill with our packages to spend the rest of the weekend sewing a new outfit to wear to class. I’ve made runzas from scratch, but this cassserole is so much simpler. You can even use packaged coleslaw mix for the cabbabe. A few carrots never hurt anyone!

  2. Great job on the blog!!!

    I make this recipe all the time. The only difference is that I bake the bottom layer of crescent rolls in the oven while I am cooking the hamburger, onions and cabbage. The recipe doesn’t take any more cooking time because the bottom browns in almost the same amount of time that it takes to brown and steam the rest.

  3. Hello, Baby Doll! I’m vacationing in San Diego & saw your sweet, sister Steph’s comment on Facebook about your Blog…..so, I had to check it out! Great job! Like many, I’m a Runza ‘fan’! (One of the few good things abou Winter! Ha!) When we moved to Scottsbluff & were without Runzas (for an entire year!!!!), I happened to find a Chech neighbor (who’d never heard of Runzas!) but who made cabbage & meat-fille buns very similar to Runzas. The dough was different (doughy), but I obtained a 100 yr. old recipe from my husband’s secretary & tweaked the recipe a bit & my husband said they were a pretty good representation of a homemade Runza! I lost the recipes in my house fire (& hadn’t made them enough to have committed them to memory, I guess; as the last time I made them…..they weren’t exactly a good representation!). One of Dana’s friends made this recipe for us once & I like it then. Glad to have it now! Thanks!
    XOX, Dee (David & Dana’s Mom)

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