Getting the Runza-round: While loosemeat is what matters in Iowa, Runzas run the show in Nebraska. A Runza is like a pasty, only in addition to meat--and sometimes instead of it--it's stuffed with potatoes, cabbage and cheese. Like Iowa's Maid-Rite, the franchise that made loosemeat its own, a fast-food chain in Nebraska has trademarked the word "Runza"; when Omi and Pa's opened at 2049 Wadsworth Boulevard in Lakewood three years ago and started serving what it called a Runza, the deli's owners were promptly notified that they'd better cease and desist. So instead, Omi and Pa--the nicknames given to Irma and Gary Werth by their grandchildren--started selling what they called a Meister Run in their little German deli/cafe. No matter what you called it, though, it still tasted like a Runza, and a wonderful Runza at that: The soft pie's bread-like crust always came filled with ground beef, steamy vegetables and melted cheese.
Until July 22, that is, when a new owner took over Omi and Pa's. Waldemar Borowiec says he bought the place as an eighteenth-anniversary present for his wife, Iwonna, and although they're keeping the eight tables, a name change to Pierre's Deli--chosen for its French sound--is in the works. Both Borowiecs are Polish; they moved here thirteen years ago from Germany. "We are going to add to the German food the Werths had been serving," says Borowiec. "We'll put in some French food and some Polish, with lots of recipes from the Old Country." And they promise to return the Meister Run to the menu as soon as they find a bread machine like the one the Werths took with them when they sold the place. In the meantime, the homemade spaetzle and spicy sausages are still worthy of attention.
The pork tenderloin sandwich is another culinary treat direct from the heartland (and heart-attack land). When I spotted a sign outside Johnny's Diner advertising the specialty, I decided to give it a try. This worn replica of a Fifties eatery--faded pink booths, rickety stools and nicked signs--has been grilling burgers and whipping up milkshakes at 2323 South Havana in Aurora for eleven years, which also appears to be how much time has passed since the place was last cleaned. We took our chances on the grub, anyway--somewhat to our regret. The tenderloin ($3.95) had been properly pounded but was so fatty it was like chewing the plastic rings from milk jugs, and the sauce was sort of tangy-ketchup-meets-mayo. But the chocolate shake ($1.85) was all right, and the fries were pretty close to the ones you get at McDonald's. The huge burger ($2.29) was another successful fast-food ripoff, with a skinny patty and old-grill-grease flavor.
But I'd rather have a Runza.