Growing up in Florida, Joe Ledwidge was either eating pizza or making it for customers in his parents’ shop nearly every day from age 11 to 19 in the 1980s.
Thirty years later after a 19-year career in law enforcement, Ledwidge moved to Montana and opened Ranger Joe’s Pizza in south Kalispell, where he uses the same Hobart dough mixer his parents used to make Sicilian, New York and Detroit deep dish style pizzas.
“That’s how I got my training as a kid,” Ledwidge said.
While Ledwidge could have stayed in retirement, he chose to open the pizza shop after his passion for pizza reignited in 2019 when he started experimenting with the old family recipe. He opened the pizza joint with help from his wife, Maria, and two sons Christian and Jonathon, who dubbed him Ranger Joe following a hike in Glacier National Park before opening a year ago.
Each style of pizza is homemade, from the sauce to the dough, which he says makes Ranger Joe’s unique in the valley.
Ledwidge combines yeast, sugar, salt, water and flour before adding oil, creating a moist dough that prevents binding before he hand-presses it. The dough ferments in the walk-in cooler for two to four days to allow the yeast to eat the sugars inside of the dough, causing expansion and creating a flavorful profile.
The dough is hand-tossed before Ledwidge adds the sauce, which is infused with garlic and other spices and cooked in-house with oil before it sits for a few days when it releases its garlic profile.
“It creates a pretty powerful flavor profile,” Ledwidge said. “We’ve been doing a very similar sauce since the 80s.”
Ledwidge also chops and cooks raw sausage in-house to preserve moisture instead of adding pre-cooked meat.
Unique to the Flathead Valley, Ranger Joe’s offers a rectangular-shaped Detroit deep dish pizza, which is made with a thick, airy and light crust and cheddar and Monterey jack cheese that melts down the side of the pan, creating a caramelized crispy crust. Mozzarella and provolone cheese and toppings are added to the crust with sauce layered on top followed by parmesan and Romano cheese sprinkled on top.
Ranger Joe’s biggest seller is the Flathead Hawaiian and the Big Fork, which has ricotta dallops and Mike’s Hot Honey drizzled on top.
The Sicilian pizza is also a rectangular-shaped deep-dish pizza, but there’s no cheese on the outside and the sauce is underneath the cheese. The New York style pizzas are made more traditionally than the deep dish and popular items include the Kalispell Sausage and Spinach and the olive oil-based “Frank Pepe.”
Other menu items include calzones, cheese bread and cinnamon sticks.
“We don’t want to get too complicated – the more you add to the menu the more prep time there is … We just have three types of pizza, calzones and cheese bread,” Ledwidge said. “We want to do it right every time.”
In the future, Ledwidge hopes to expand Ranger Joe’s across the valley and potentially to Missoula, but for now, he is happy to bring a unique pizza to Kalispell.
Ranger Joe’s Pizza is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 am to 8 pm, Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 9 pm and Sunday from 3 pm to 8 pm
For more information, visit www.rangerjoespizza.com.