The most interesting thing I have found in my “research” into local margheritas has been at Mascalzone and Taverna, two Italian-owned and -operated restaurants. Though their versions have of the margherita have both been a little disappointing – and I have had a couple of very enjoyable pizzas at Mascalzone before – they give a hint into how the great American cheese pizza came about. In each of these versions, the mozzarella was diced into small pieces and layered around the top, allowing it to mix with the tomato sauce and creating somewhat of an orange sheen, even a touch of grease helped by some olive oil. More so, these two versions tasted a lot like the American cheese pizza.
So, my thought is that the cheese pizza probably had its origin in the margherita fairly early in the last century. The gooey, greasy cheese pizza works much better with the sturdy New York-style crust than does the more delicate margherita assembly. “Cheese pizza” might have been an easier sell to non-Italian-speaking customers, too.
The margherita pizza at Mascalzone recently, looking like a cheese pizza to me.