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It comes on a tray that looks like a cafeteria tray, along with a ladle-shaped spatula. Cheese and sauce run right to the edge of the square sides of the pizza, which is barely half an inch high and cut like a tic-tac-toe board. On each of the nine slices lies a thick, cup-shaped slice of pepperoni with drops of glistening oil inside.
For those who grew up in the D.C. area, particularly in Prince George’s or Montgomery counties, this is pizza: the kind you get after Little League games, on college dates, or on nights when you just can’t felt like cooking, ate. Maybe you went to Pizza Hut to redeem the Book It! coupons. rewards, or you lived close enough to a Domino’s that your family could be enticed by the promise of delivery in 30 minutes or less, but in the suburbs there were always local pizzerias that served pies that looked very different from what was they got from the ovens of national chains.
Ledo Pizza opened in 1955 in an Adelphi shopping center and was founded by early restaurateurs Bob Beall and Tommy Marcos. They found a formula — a thin, dough-like crust, smoked provolone cheese and a sweet but oregano-heavy marinara sauce — baked in rectangular pans, not round ones, because that’s what the owners had access to. These ingredients became staples, although Jamie Beall, Ledo’s president and CEO, explains, “A Ledo pizza is essentially a collection of mistakes.”
Bob Beall, a former restaurant alcohol inspector, and Marcos, a deputy sheriff, “didn’t know much about pizza,” the younger Beall says with a laugh. “My grandfather went to a bakery down the street and the baker said, ‘Okay, here’s how to make a pie crust,’ meaning not a traditional pizza pie, but a regular pie. He went to another chef to get a good marinara sauce and it was sweeter. He used provolone because it was readily available at the time. He didn’t know it was supposed to be mozzarella. The thick pepperoni is basically because we had lazy cooks. If you told someone to slice six pieces of pepperoni, the thicker he sliced them, the faster the work would go.”
Ledo, located about a mile west of the University of Maryland campus, became a slam dunk, drawing professional athletes like Joe Namath and Yogi Berra as well as students, local high school teams and families to a wood-paneled dining room with College Park murals and framed photos of Terrapin sports stars. There were no queues as the pizzas were made to order.
The restaurant’s success led to similar shaped and tasting pizzas spreading throughout the region, particularly in the inner suburbs from Hyattsville to Rockville: Italian Inn in Hyattsville, Pizza Oven in Riverdale and other locations, Leonie’s in Langley Park, Continental in Kensington, Stained Glass Pub in Wheaton, 4 Corners Pub in Silver Spring, The Cavalier (later Gentleman Jim’s) in Twinbrook and finally Gaithersburg. Those who couldn’t make pizza got creative: In the 1980s, before Ledo opened franchise locations, restaurants as far away as Burtonsville “imported” entire pizzas from Ledo’s, the Washington Post reported, if not just to wholesale the recipe to buy.
Of course, restaurants don’t serve carbon copies. Today, the pies at the Stained Glass Pub arrive with a border of bubbles and char around the edges, as opposed to the flat Ledo, while Gentleman Jim’s defaults to Swiss cheese instead of provolone. But because of its role in the origin story, the archetypal Ledo cheese pizza became the foundation of Maryland-style pizza, and despite being mocked by transplants from other parts of the country, it’s definitely a unique style. “Not everyone likes Ledo’s pizza,” former Maryland delegate Tim Maloney wrote in a 2005 tribute to The Post, “but you quickly realize that these people are from New York and New Jersey, so their pizza opinions are real don’t count.”
“I would think we were a contributor-slash template” for the style, Beall says. “There were some good people who – I don’t want to say they ran away – but somehow took some of what we did and made it their own.” The geographical designation is relatively new: in the 1980s Phyllis Richman, the Post’s longtime restaurant critic and longtime Ledo fan, referred to Ledo as “Prince George’s County Pizza” in print and wrote in another story, “This unusual pizza, with its flaky, crispy crust and intense tomato and flavor Cheese toppings have become the best culinary symbol of Prince George’s County.”
Ledo began offering franchise opportunities in 1989 and there are now more than three dozen satellite locations of the restaurant in the D.C. suburbs. But Marylanders’ affinity for Ledo (or, as many call it, Ledos) is ardent, almost fanatical – much like their affection for Old Bay – and knows no state boundaries. When a new franchise called Ledo opened near Daytona Beach earlier this year, according to Beall, in the first few weeks, “the majority of people who came in had Maryland socks on or a Baltimore Orioles T-shirt or one.” Ravens hat. “I think they wanted to show they were from Maryland when they came to the restaurant.”
In September 2022, Ledo raised the Maryland flag in the self-proclaimed pizza capital of the world and opened its first store in Midtown Manhattan. Beall says the store is doing well and he’s thrilled with the response from New Yorkers. “People aren’t necessarily turned off by the square pizza itself, but they come in and grab a slice. They start chewing it, look at you and say, ‘This isn’t pizza.’ It’s really, really good, but it’s not pizza.'” But they’re wrong: It’s pizza. It’s our pizza.
Where to enjoy Maryland-style pizza
Continental, based in a small strip mall on busy Connecticut Avenue in Kensington, is a step backwards in every way. The decor is spartan: illuminated menu boards, wooden tables, no televisions. A handwritten sign at the register reminds customers that transactions are “CASH ONLY.” The hardest drink to pour is grape lemonade. And a basic pizza starts at $11.20. Most people who come through the door get takeout: pizzas or cheesesteaks cooked on a flat-top grill behind the counter.
If you don’t order in advance, you’ll have to wait about 15 minutes for a cake that arrives in a box wrapped in aluminum foil. The crust has more of a yeasty sourdough quality than others, with a slight edge to the edges. It’s not as buttery as some Maryland pizzas. But with salty cheese and flat pepperoni, it’s a good example of this style. A large one is 10 x 14 inches and makes 12 pieces. Pro tip: If you want some atmosphere, grab your pizza to go and take it to BabyCat Brewery, just a short drive away, where you can pair your pie with classic lagers or a smooth, hazy IPA.
10532 Connecticut Ave., Kensington. continentalpizzakensington.com.
The Stained Glass Pub is a true neighborhood hangout, attracting crowds with its weekly events – Wednesday karaoke, Thursday quizzes – as well as its food. At the cozy wooden bar, where televisions show football, baseball and the Maryland Lottery Keno game, teachers sit elbow to elbow with contractors, beer and giant metal trays full of pizza in front of them. The pies have a larger crust than Ledo — we actually saw some charred, blistered edges — and the kitchen is heavy-handed with the toppings, particularly the cheese. For pizza fans, Mondays and Tuesdays are the best nights to visit, and not just for watching ESPN: Pizza is half price when you buy a drink. Less than $12 for a two-topping pizza big enough to feed the whole crew? Sold.
12510 Layhill Rd., Silver Spring. tainedglasspub.net.
Ledo Pizza in College Park
Open since: 1955. At this location since 2010.
No, this restaurant, formerly known as the “Original Ledo Restaurant,” is not the original home of Ledo. After 55 years on University Boulevard in Adelphi, the original Ledo Restaurant closed in 2009 and moved to downtown College Park. Owner Tommy Marcos Jr. decided to retire in 2020 and sold the business to a hotel company that operates other Ledo franchises. The restaurant reopened in October 2021 after a major remodel. The restaurant is located right on the main street of Route 1 and boasts large red and black booths and a large bar. There are photos on the walls from the original location.
There are plenty of details to remind you that you’re in a college town, including photos of the Maryland flag flying over a student cheering area and a basketball signed by coach Kevin Willard behind the bar next to Maryland football helmets, but for those who do remember the days when legends like Lefty Driesell or Morgan Wootten stopped by for a pizza, the atmosphere seems a little generic. (Not that the sports heroes are gone: When I spoke with Beall for this story, he had just had lunch with former Maryland basketball star Steve Francis at Ledo in College Park.)
And on game days, alumni and students flock to the building — Ledo is located between campus and Sorority Row — to order the classic pizzas, which consist of 9, 20 or 30 square slices and have a buttery, sometimes greasy crust. Aside from cheese and pepperoni, Beall says the chain’s other best sellers are meat lovers, vegetable lovers and, believe it or not, Hawaiians. Ledo is served at more than 120 franchise locations along the East Coast, but College Park remains its spiritual home.
4509 Knox Rd., College Park. ledopizza.com. Other locations in the DC area.