Ledo Pizza in Rockville, Maryland is a place that falls into the category of “hometown bias” when speaking about my affinity for it. That is, the unconscious tendency to overrate a beloved childhood pizza place which elicits (a) sentiments of nostalgia, (b) a desire to return to a time in one’s life when things were simple, or (c) just pure elation. In other words, those people who have no intrinsic relationship with Ledo will most likely find the pizza average at best. But for me, Ledo will always have a place in my artery clogged heart. And on a recent trip back to Maryland, it tasted as good as it did two decades ago.
A few important notes about Ledo. In recent years it has expanded into a fairly large chain, with more than 90 locations throughout the east coast. All but about 10 locations are in Maryland and Virgina. The chain had humble beginnings; it started as a single pizza shop in College Park, Maryland in 1955 and catered to college students at the University of Maryland.
Perhaps the best press the place has ever received (other than this blog, of course!) was a couple of years ago when it was featured on Oprah [Oprah features Ledo’s as among country’s best pizza]. Oprah sent her friend Gayle King, a former University of Maryland student, around the country in search of the best pizza. And the first place she visited was Ledo. ‘‘I have always liked pizza,” said King. “But there is no pizza in the world, in the world, that I am still talking about and remembering and thinking about 30 years later.” Although I don’t feel as strongly about Ledo as does King, it was always a childhood favorite and is certainly unlike any pizza I’ve had in my life. In a blind taste test, I guaratee I could identify a slice from Ledo.
Perhaps the most distinguishing factor about Ledo’s pies is that they are square. And no — it’s not Sicilian nor a Grandma pie. It’s a regular pie, cooked in a rectangular pan. Their website explains why that has been the case for the past 55 years: The round pizza pans commonly seen today were very new in the fifties. Rectangular baking pans were readily available, hence the square pizza.
That’s news to me, but one thing is for sure — Ledo was not only the first time I ate a non-circular pie, but it wasn’t until many years after my first experience at Ledo that I encountered pies elsewhere that were not round. Over the years, the shape of Ledo’s pies also played into the chain’s marketing plans. Our pies are rectangular because we don’t cut corners was a frequent slogan on local television and radio ads.
The Rockville location is the only Ledo I have ever been to, but I’d be interested in trying the original location. As New Yorkers know, the original locations of places like Totonno’s and Grimaldi’s are much better than their offshoots. On this particular Saturday evening, the Rockville location, which is on the top level of a quiet strip mall, was empty. I have childhood memories of this place being packed, so it was odd to see it like this.
I ordered one medium pie with half mushrooms ($10.00) which gives you 20 square slices. The crust is thin, so two hungry people should be able to finish it in one sitting. I’d say it’s about the equivalent of six regular slices. It tasted just as I’d remembered. The slices are oily and the crust leaves a white powder on your fingers. It’s more chewy than crunchy. More cheesy than saucy. And the crust almost looks like matzah that had time to rise, but it tastes great.
I suppose there’s no pizza place that has as much history in the Washington, DC area as does Ledo. It’s grown from a mom and pop operation to a franchise that is expanding as you read this. A new location recently opened in RFK Stadium – a sign that despite more pizza options in the area than ever before, Ledo is still popular among locals. Perhaps it has something to do with its history. Perhaps people in the area feel the same type of nostalgia as I do when they walk into a Ledo’s location. And as a new generation grows to love Ledo too, it would appear that this classic pizza place will be sticking around for years to come.