Borelli’s, the Doc’s Take: “It’s like Pac Man torture porn.”

They have video games,” I said to the Maestro. “This intrigues me.”

“As it does me,” he replied. And the decision was thus made. It was going to be Borelli’s this week.

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I think it’s hard for someone who isn’t a male of our generation-ish to understand the allure of video games for guys like the Maestro and me. Now, in my late 30’s, I wouldn’t call myself a “gamer,” even by the most generous definition of that word, despite the fact that I play some version of Super Mario Brothers literally every day and have a Nintendo in my living room and a Nintendo 64 in my office. See, my generation, especially those individuals in my generation with a Y chromosome, have been the targets of a distinct cultural phenomenon over the last, eh, ten years or so. To wit, marketers have figured out the inherent power of serving up to us reheated slices of our childhood, one nostalgia-inducing icon at a time.

My own hypothesis is this kind of began with the release of the Special Editions of the original “Star Wars” movies in the late 1990’s. Driven largely by dudes about my age, those awful, awful reimaginings of the original Trilogy made a metric ton of cash. I think marketers noticed this, and said, “Huh…you mean dudes of that generation will spend money on things that stoke those early-to-mid-80’s feels, even if they suck?” They got their definitive answer to this question in the subsequent several years, when that same demographic inexplicably turned out in droves to see Star Wars Episodes I, II, and III, which– I think we can all agree– have approximately the same entertainment value of, say, Star Wars Episodes I, II, and III.

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(I actually tried to come up with an example of something that was the opposite of entertaining to close out that last paragraph, before realizing that, under any other circumstances, if I wanted to connote the opposite of entertainment, Episodes I, II, and III would be my go-to case studies).

Anyway. The point is, dudes of my generation in particular seem to have this odd compulsion to recreate our gradeschool days by buying stuff, going to stuff, and playing stuff that reminds us of our youths. And the fact that Borelli’s, a little family-run pizza place over in Lincoln Square, advertised on its website that it has a video game room seemed to push that nostalgia button in both me and the Maestro, which is why we found ourselves ambling into this atmospheric little joint the other night. And when I say “atmospheric,” I mean “many random, seemingly non-related things together in the same space for some reason. Also a disco ball.”

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What do I mean by that? What I mean is that there was a ska band setting up to play, just a few feet from where a kids’ birthday party, complete with balloons and party hats, was under way. I mean that, while waiting for our pizza to be ready, the Maestro stumbled upon an organ in a back room (the musical kind of organ– though “the Maestro stumbled upon an organ in the back room” is funnier without context, I now realize), which he was literally sad to discover wouldn’t play. This was next to some kind of wooden chair attached to a mirror thing that, no joke, looked like it came out of an old-school Disney cartoon movie.

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I mean that I stumbled upon a working, whaddyacallit, scale, you know, the kind where whatever you’re measuring goes on one side of the scale, and little weights go on the other side, like old-school drug dealers must’ve used.

(Yes, that’s the example that sprung to my mind– “old school drug dealers.” I’m rewatching “Breaking Bad” on Netflix at the moment.)

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And how do I know the old-school scale was in working order? Because while I was looking at it, transfixed by how…shiny…and…silver it was, the owner of the place came over and cheerfully showed me how it worked. A few minutes later, while I was taking the picture that follows this paragraph, the owner again seemed to materialize out of nowhere, to cheerfully explain who was in each picture. Later, as the Maestro and I were sitting in a booth and stuffing our faces with pizza, same owner amiably walked over and cheerfully introduced himself (you may be noticing a theme developing here).

“You’re the pizza blog guys, right?” he asked, shaking our hands. (I’d sent him an email earlier in the day, asking if there was anything on the menu he particularly recommended, or any off-menu specials that night. With God as my witness, one of these days this blog is going to get us free pizza, dammit.)

“Mmf,” I replied, my mouth stuffed with pizza. Which was probably a good thing, insofar as the last topic of conversation before I’d stuffed said pizza into my mouth was whether our scathing hot server was 1) related to the owner of this family-run operation, and 2) of legal age in our municipality.

“Well, I think you guys should absolutely keep going and make this a book!” he cheerfully exclaimed (in my introductory email, I’d explained that it was our half-assed intention to maybe collate all of these entries into a self-published vanity project, the Maestro and I being the most vain people I personally am aware of). “You know, when you set your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”

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Well, he might not have said that last bit word for word; I might have copped the exact language from Doc Brown. But that was the gist. He was gregarious, chatty, and did I mention cheerful? He told us about how the veggies were fresh and locally grown; how his family had established and run the joint for two decades; how the games in the game room in the back didn’t require quarters.

Which made the exchange come to a screeching halt. No quarters required? Free video games in the back? Yes, sir. This conversation has been nice, but the Maestro and I have things to investigate.

What can I tell you about the vaunted game room at Borelli’s. I can tell you they had Galaga, which is a personal favorite of mine; which, if you’re familiar with the complete lack of fine motor skills either possessed by the Doc or required by the game, you’ll understand. I can tell you they had a foosball table, and while it remains unclear which of the Maestro and I is Chandler and which is Joey (frankly, if we’re being honest, both of us are more or less versions of Ross, with the Maestro leaning Joey-ways and me leaning Chandler-ways), we both got excited about before realizing that we pretty much suck at foosball. And, I can tell you they had Pac Man. Or, they almost had Pac Man.

“The controller’s not working,” the Maestro said, with furrowed brow as he attempted to work the joystick. “Aw, man, really?” I said, stepping in and restarting the game. Sure enough, after the familiar opening theme music, Pac Man started chomping, chomping, chomping power pellets to the left, to the left, to the left…and then remained stuck at the far left corner of the screen, despite my frantic attempts to get him to go up, down, anywhere…to avoid the murderous, colorful ghosts that were slowly circling around him, themselves seeming to wonder whether he was going to make any move to defend himself. (He wasn’t, as it turned out.)

“It’s like…Pac Man torture porn,” the Maestro said dolefully as we watched Pac Man’s little yellow dot dissolve on the screen. I nodded glumly.

Oh, right! The pizza!

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The pizza was pretty good. Thin crust, sliced into squares, Chicago-style. A little on the greasy side, maybe, but you know what, I’ll totally give Borelli’s props for the fresh veggies.

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And the crust held up, too, despite the greasy sheen and piles of veggies; there were, in the words of Darth Vader to Boba Fett, NO DISINTEGRATIONS.

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The thing about Borelli’s is, it’s like a non-contrived version of Showbiz Pizza Place or Chuck E. Cheese. Or, like, you know the random assortment of objects you find affixed to the walls of, say, a TGI Friday’s? Borelli’s is like that, except you get the feeling that it came by that not-unpleasantly chaotic aesthetic honestly; that the zaniness is organic, not out of a corporate policies and procedures manual.

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Sadly, the Maestro and I jetted– there was gelato to be had before the night was through– before the ska band tuned up and serenaded the kids’ birthday party. I mean, seriously, unless it was going to be, say, a Huey Lewis cover band, it was probably going to break the nostalgic thrall. In addition to being, let’s face it, just too darn loud.

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Thumbs up on Borelli’s. Chuck E. Cheese wishes it was this place.

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