“It’s named after Walter Cronkite, right?” A couple of associates and I were sitting in Cronkite Pizzeria, a spare and obscurely located subterranean space on Norfolk decorated with neon clocks. With its halfhearted stab at décor, the restaurant reminded us of a basement rec room in Davenport, Iowa. The waiter wrinkled up his brow when I asked about the name, then launched into a long and unconvincing explanation: “One of the owners is a sculptor. He did a sculpture called
Cronkite. I don’t think it had anything to do with the newsman. But then I’ve never seen the sculpture. See that neon clock at the end of the room?” We squinted. “That clock was specially made for this restaurant. See the caged figure in the middle of the clock? That’s one of the owner’s sculptures. But it’s not Cronkite.”
Despite the awful name, Cronkite is a worthwhile addition to the city’s vast pizza panorama. It’s a project of Michael Ayoub, the guy who brought you Williamsburg’s Fornino, a pretty good wood-oven pizza place right above the L stop on Bedford. With the exception of a handful of appetizers, pizzas are the only edibles on Cronkite’s menu, which also boasts a lengthy and pricey wine list, but who’s gonna splurge for a bottle of Brunello to wash down a pizza? That the place remains near-empty many nights is the fault—according to our talkative waiter—of timing, location, and lack of exposure in the news media. Then again, maybe Cronkite is cursed.
There’s nothing wrong with the pizzas, though, which come in two sizes: a 10-inch individual pie, and a 16-inch regular pie that easily feeds two. Made in a gas-fired brick oven, the crust is similar to what one finds in Central Italy: thinner than the standard American pie, with crunchy areas competing with squishier ones. Our favorite that first evening was Tartufo, the most expensive pie on the menu ($36/$51). The pizza melts three cheeses—fresh mozzarella, ricotta, and fontina—as a creamy platform for a blizzard of shaved black truffles, which look like wood ash on white snow. Very Japanese, visually speaking. The pungent odor assails the nostrils, and the truffles leave a miraculous aftertaste that persists for hours. Do I love this pizza? You bet! It would be worth it to go hungry for the day to split this gem with a friend. There is a problem devouring it first thing in the meal: Nothing else on the menu can top it.
In spite of this sad fact, several other pies verge on the spectacular. The Rustica ($12/$20) gobs the pie with shiitake mushrooms, mozzarella, a soupçon of tomato, and guanciale. At first, our helpful waiter tried to dissuade us: “That pie is way salty,” he warned. He was right about the salinity, but confined to the little strips of cured hog jowl (from Chelsea’s sainted Salumeria Biellese), it provided the perfect counterpoint to the bland woodsiness of the ‘shrooms. Depending on mozzarella, crushed garlic, and a handful of cockles, the Vongole is similarly dope. Among the eight pies we tried, from a list of 30, only the Pesto ($11/$19) bombed. Once baked, its undercarriage of caciotta piccante cheese turns into rubber, the cherry tomatoes go soggy, and the cooked pesto develops a strange color and odor. It’s like a toxic chemical spill on your pie.