Food à la Nude

Our critic and her mother take it all off at the Bare Buns Bistro.

There's a naked man hammering nails just outside the door of the restaurant. I can see him through the glass pane, working in happy rhythm as he repairs a damaged windowsill. Up, down, up, down, his hammer rises and strikes; tick-tock, tick-tock, his penis rocks, keeping the beat like a metronome.

Another gentleman passes next to my table, pressing his luncheon check against his shirt as he approaches the counter to pay. The shirt is all he wears; dangling below is the rest of him, flapping at optimum eye level from where I relax in my chair, me nibbling on a quite nice sliced steak and bleu cheese salad.

Such views should be alarming, the naked parts in general, but especially when experienced alongside a basket of fine chicken finger nuggets, the juicy nubbins lightly dipped in batter and deep-fried until golden, served nestled with good, crisp French fries, spicy coleslaw and a ramekin of Ranch dressing.

Palmer Saylor III

And the sights are weird -- for the first few minutes -- until Mom and I shrug, let loose, and peel off our clothes. Then, it's no big deal. We're just another duo of diners enjoying a pleasant lunch at the Bare Buns Bistro, the new restaurant at Shangri La nudist ranch in New River.

Bare Buns Bistro opened this summer, to nourish the hundreds of naked people frequenting Shangri La Ranch. Appetites are, er, aroused after sweaty games of tennis, volleyball, shuffleboard, basketball, horseshoes or hiking. So entrepreneurs Nicholas and Donna Green answered the need, satisfying guests' desires with a remarkably lengthy menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes.

Menu size doesn't matter, of course, but the quality of the meals is equally admirable, for a restaurant set in the middle of desert nothingness, hidden behind high electronic security gates and populated by oceans of RVs, camper trailers and pockets of deluxe rental casitas.

The Greens take their business seriously, crafting the menu items from scratch, including a mouth-watering coleslaw creamed with horseradish and topnotch grilled Italian sausage, sliced and rocket-powered with spicy heat. Jokes beg to be made -- Do the salads come with dressing? Do they serve hot cross buns for breakfast? -- yet after a tour of the property, Mom and I are so comfortable that to crack funnies seems silly.

Really, there's something oddly normal about sitting au naturel in the sparse dining room, spotted with a handful of tables, the only decor a few trite Southwestern-style prints and the golden tendrils of sunlight peeking through desert trees into the large windows that make up the walls. What better way to tuck into a truly tasty New York steak (strip, of course), open-faced crabmeat sandwich, chicken breast sautéed in wine and mushroom sauce, or potato skins.

While unique, Bare Buns Bistro doesn't require any special regulations, says David Ludwig, manager of Maricopa County's Environmental Health Division. "The code requires that exposed areas that are hairy must be covered, i.e., arms, so you could move this to other areas of the human body also -- an apron cover-up."

No worries: "All Bare Buns Bistro employees must remain textiled while at work," a sign reads, utilizing the term that's inside nudist talk for people wearing clothes. Chair seats are fabric, but guests are required to park their parts on towels (bring your own, or the owners' kids will rent you one for a buck).

There's no pressure to parade -- Shangri La's owners believe that the best way to welcome newcomers to the nudist lifestyle is to allow them to ease into the environment at their own pace, so except when using the pool and spa, Shangri La Ranch is clothing-optional. And on this chilly December day, there are plenty of guests in various states of dress -- men preferring shirts and shoes or brightly colored fanny packs; women opting for hats and sandals, strolling the grounds or tooling around in golf carts.

Nobody -- nobody -- looks at Mom and me in our buff beauty, except for some seriously shocked bankers, stuffed into suits and neckties, and gold Rolexes. The group of investment professionals has been brought in to host a seminar on how to, well, not lose our shirts in the stock market. Though they've been warned where they're speaking, the distress is obvious as they pick their way past us, just your everyday mother-daughter outing, lounging spread-eagle on chaises around the pool.

Family-oriented Shangri La Ranch isn't about sex, and indeed, anyone displaying inappropriate behavior is thrown out on his butt. And no kidding -- there's nothing remotely sensual about this crowd, many silver-haired and leather-skinned, many with pendulous bellies permanently shading their most private parts, many as living proof that with turn-ons, suggestion of what lies beneath can be much more seductive than seeing the full monty. In fact, Ludwig reports his inspectors' greatest challenge is "learning how to shade their eyes quickly."

Our greatest worry is spilling coffee, served complimentary with a three-egg omelet (choice of ham, cheese, onion, sausage, salsa and tomato for a low $5.50) or three pieces of French toast, partnered by bacon or sausage for just $4.50. Napkins are paper, so dining is an at-risk proposition.

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