While football is the center of attention on fall Saturdays in Nebraska, the action on the field doesn't have an exclusive hold on people's attention. So as our "Best of Nebraska" series moves forward, we'd be remiss if we neglected to address some of the traditions of Nebraska football off the field.
Last week, I nominated three of my stadium favorites, and our fellow readers added two more: the Husker Burger and the Dairy Store. We also had a nomination for Amigo's...but they aren't sold in the stadium anymore. Never was a big fan of Amigo's; my brother-in-law used to throw out a variant of the line from "Weird Science" of "a greasy Husker burrito served on a dirty ashtray."
So here are our candidates for Best Stadium Food
Fairbury Hot Dogs
Fairbury hot dogs have been a tradition at Nebraska football games for many years, but most fans probably weren't aware of the brand until Dollar Bill Byrne replaced them for a year. In 1994, Nebraska unveiled the new HuskerVision screens, and needed sponsors. So the athletic department signed one of the national brands to advertise on HuskerVision and become the "official hot dog" of the Huskers.
Only problem is that the fans rejected the replacement hot dogs. They didn't really realize what had happened until they bit into their hot dogs, and realized the hot dog they had come to know and love had been replaced by a generic wiener. Fans called into radio shows and wrote letters to the paper wondering what happened to the old red hot dogs.
Needless to say, Byrne moved quickly to right the wrong, and worked out a sponsorship deal with Fairbury Brand Meats and in 1995, the Fairbury Tom Boy hot dogs returned to Memorial Stadium. To promote the hot dogs, Fairbury introduced "Der Viener Schlinger", a pressurized hot dog cannon that can shoot hot dogs high into the crowd. It's now a new tradition at Husker games as hot dogs get shot out into the stands. At a spring game, I watched a hot dog get blasted into the fence at the top of the east stadium where it disintegrated upon impact.
Have I enjoyed a Fairbury hot dog at a Husker game? Of course, and they aren't the usual hot dog.
Is there another sandwich that is more Nebraskan than the Runza? It's a simple sandwich of ground beef and cabbage that's baked inside of dough. The origins are Russian, but they've become a tradition in Nebraska. Runzas are a sandwich you either love - or can't stand. If you've moved from Nebraska and love Runzas, it's usually the first place you eat when you are back visiting. Runza even followed the Huskers to the Holiday Bowl, with three stands at Qualcomm Stadium.
Count me as a Runza lover ... especially on those cold November game days. One distinctive feature of the Runza is it's ability to retain heat. It's a dense sandwich, and so it travels well with stadium vendors. In fact, a former co-worker once told me he always bought one or two on cold game days ... but never ate them. He put them in his pockets and used them as handwarmers.
Personally, I think that's a waste of a good sandwich, but he has a point about it keeping you warm on cold game days. I usually keep it in my pockets for a few minutes to warm me up before I eat one on game days. But I usually only order them in the second half of the season...
I'll tip you off as to my favorite stadium food... Val's pizza. I'm a pizza aficionado; I like most any pizza. There aren't many pizza's I don't like. Some are better than others, but for the most part, it's more of a variety thing. And Valentino's has a distinctive taste that works for me. A slightly sweeter sauce than most, and a tender, flaky crust. In the restaurants or if you order it carry-out, they cut the pizza into squares...but those inside pieces are rather sloppy to eat. Not good at a football game, so they break with tradition and cut it in the more traditional wedge manner. The shape doesn't affect the flavor.
In the stands, they only serve hamburger pizza, which is just fine with me. However, now that I've taken nieces and nephews to games, I've learned that at the concession stands, they do sell cheese pizza as well. So that's usually a winner for them.
Like Runza, Val's has a following of former Nebraskans who have moved elsewhere. They do a brisk business mailing frozen pizzas across the country for people who long for a taste of home.
The Husker Burger
I'm consolidating the stadium burgers, Lola's Burgers (on the west side of the stadium), and the legendary Husker Burger (shaped like the state of Nebraska) in this category. If Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald stops by, I think he'll cast his vote here. Personally, I've never tried any of them; I'm usually going after my usual favorites.
The UNL Dairy Store
This was another nominee from a reader. The campus Dairy Store has concession stands in the East Stadium (at the south end) and the West Stadium (at the North end) serving their premium ice cream made right on the East Campus of UNL. From my seats in the south end zone, I've never tried it...but being an ice cream aficionado, I'm going to make an effort to stop over in September.