I have lived in Nebraska since July 2014, but I have a confession to make…
I only just recently tried a Runza.
I’ve eaten at Runza dozens of times, but only in December did I dare to try “the Runza.”
And I’m hooked.
These things are so good. My only regret is not daring to try one sooner. How did I go so long never having this little Nebraska treasure?
Nebraska and my home state West Virginia are many miles apart, but my new food discovery has me feeling more at home. You see, this meat stuffed dough is very similar to a West Virginia classic, the pepperoni roll.
While a Runza is a dough stuffed with cabbage and meat (sometimes cheese, and especially delicious with cheese), a pepperoni roll is a dough stuffed with pepperoni and cheese.
Their flavor profiles vary as you can imagine, but needless to say, I decided to research these two delicacies for the sake of curing my writer’s block this week.
Both doughs pack a historical punch with roots dating to the way, way backs. Runzas have German-Russian beginnings somewhere in the 18th century. After they found themselves in Midwestern America, the sandwiches became a lunchtime frequency for the field workers.
West Virginia pepperoni rolls have a past of being a reputable lunchtime food for the working class as well. In the early half of the 20th century, pepperoni rolls were a frequent lunch for the coal miners working in West Virginia mines. In fact, its original roots have been traced to an Italian coal miner who worked in a mine near Clarksburg, West Virginia.
Similar to the Runza restaurants that occupy this state selling the delicious Runza sandwiches, pepperoni rolls have found their home as a game day concession in the West Virginia University football stadium. The pepperoni roll has become a WVU game day tradition with the smell of freshly baked dough occupying every inch of the stadium before kickoff. Of course, one can also obtain a roll from most of the Sheetz gas stations in West Virginia. Outside of purchasing this fine cuisine, it is almost a rite of passage as a West Virginian to know how to make them at home. All it takes is some roll dough, some mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, and a working oven.
I’m told there are Runza recipes floating around out in the Midwestern world, but I have yet to perfect one. Perhaps that is my resolution this year?
Needless to say, in my exploration of these two foods that seek fame in two separate regions of the country, I have found that perhaps Nebraska and West Virginia share more in common than one might think.