You Say “Ovenstuff’d,” I Say “Runza”

Best. Fast Food. Ever.

Last week, while watching the election returns with friends at The Grand, I freaked out everyone in the room by suddenly standing up and screaming at the top of my lungs. The reason for my celebration? The joy of seeing democracy in action? The fervor of getting caught up in the election process? No, nothing quite so mundane. The reason for my joy was much, much more profound.

Runza has brought back the Italian Runza (I refuse to use the hackneyed term “Ovenstuff’d Sandwich”).

For those of you who don’t live in Nebraska (or eastern Colorado, western Iowa, or northern Kansas), Runza is probably the best fast food restaurant in the area. It has all of your normal fare — hamburgers, fries, onion rings, etc. — but the food is much higher quality and overall quite a bit tastier. But what really sets Runza apart are its Runzas, those little stuffed sandwiches, “just like Grandma used to make” (if you’re German, that is). And the king of all Runzas is the Italian, stuffed with meat and spices, tomato sauce, and gobs of cheese.

Sadly, Runza decided to get replace the Italian a few years back with some other “ethnic” Runzas, including the Chicken Teriyaki and Mexican Runzas, which I refused to try on general principle. Every so often, they’d bring back the Italian, but it’s been several years since they did it last, and I’d almost forgotten that they exist. But they do, and they’re as good as ever.

On a sidenote, my love for Runza Restaurant goes beyond their good food. When I lived with my parents, there was a Runza just down the street from our house, and I spent many a Saturday walking down there with my best friend, getting cheap milkshakes, playing the crappy bowling arcade game they had, talking about girls, etc. And whenever I met with Jim, my high school mentor, it was almost always at Runza over a couple of burgers. And the Italian Runza is probably one of the most distinctive foods from my childhood. As a kid, I was fascinated by this “pizza in a bun”, and I still am.

As much as I love their food, I’ve had some issues with Runza in the past, and not just because they ignored the Italian. Much of Runza’s charm came from its quaintness, from the “Old World”-ness that their restaurants exuded in their ads (complete with a cute little grandma who only spoke German). But in recent years, they’ve tried to make their image a little hipper, even replacing their very namesake with the uber-generic and limp “Ovenstuff’d Sandwich.” Still, the food quality hasn’t suffered — they still have the best fast food fries in town — and I’ve been savoring every Italian Runza I can get my hands on.

My enthusiasm for the Italian is probably a little unsettling for my friends. After all, who over the age of 4 gets excited about fast food? But just try one and you’ll understand.

Best. Fast Food. Ever.