Stu Helm, Asheville’s Facebook Food Critic, on Donatelli Bakery

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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facebook_food_critic_2013Hello Asheville,

You know what’s new to me, and kind of weird: Being hated on by total strangers. I’m not used to some douche I’ve never met in my life calling me “either a liar or an idiot,” because I wrote that I don’t
understand why people flock to the fast food feed bucket weekly and daily.

One thing I promise you guys, is that I will never lie to you about the food I love or hate, or the reasons I do or don’t go to certain places. If I go to my fave place and they serve me a turd of a meal, I’ll let you know. If I find paradise in the food court at the Mall, I’ll confess that to you as well. I don’t pull punches, and I don’t feign ignorance.

When it comes to fast food, I don’t get it. I suspect that Mr. “Liar or Idiot” would suggest that people eat it because “they are stupid.” I do not subscribe to that school of thought. I could make some guesses as to why, but you know what? I’m already fucking bored… so let’s move on to something much more important: Pastries. Below you will find a review that I wrote a few months ago. It might read a little bit like a love letter. I do not apologize for that.

KAREN DONATELLI BAKERY & CAKE DESIGN – Haywood Ave., Downtown Asheville

FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m lucky enough to say that Karen is a friend of mine. Our friendship is recent, and grew out of my frequent visits to her shop, my deep love of her pastries, and admiration for her
talents. This review is as honest as they come.

There is a world class artist living among us here in Asheville and her name is Karen Donatelli. If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’.

Karen’s pastry case is like an art gallery, or museum, where the finest pieces of delicate confection sit like fantastic objets d’yum. One looks upon Karen’s work with awe.

Like, “Awe, shit! I’m gonna get me one a them there cherry frangipani tartlets, y’all!!!”

And, my good sir or madame, them there frangipani tartlets are going be some of the best things you ever et in your life. I want to recommend other items by name, but there’s so many delicious things,
and it’s kind of a miracle I even learned the word “frangipani,” so just go in, look, and point. You can’t go wrong. My mother can not get enough of the chocolate brioche. It’s really good.

I’ve tasted a little bit of everything in Karen’s case and it’s all stellar. Like out of this world. I eat Karen’s pastries more slowly than normal food, because I don’t want it to go away. When it’s gone,
I haz a sad. But there’s more! A case full! Every day! Yay, Karen Donatelli Bakery and Cake Designs!!!

And, I just wanna say, I know from fine pastries. I’ve eaten a LOT of pastries in my snack-crazed life, both good and bad. I’ve eaten pastries in foreign lands and such. Like, Paris. The real Paris. In France. I know a good pastry when I eat one, that’s for dang sure.

I can honestly say that Karen Donatelli Bakery and Cake Design has the best pastries I’ve ever eaten in my en-tire friggin’ life, bar none. You heard right: Best EVER.

The coffee is great too, and they make a very simple, yet delicious lunch item or two every day. Chicken salad on a croissant with a side of fruit, or something like that. It’s very good, light, healthy, and

The atmosphere is pleasant, comfortable, quiet, and old-worldy. There’s plenty of sunshine (if you like that sort of thing), a good view of Haywood Ave, and fresh flowers on every table. Karen’s son, Vincent, is the consummate professional behind the counter (and very handsome, I might add… Aaaand, he’s got access to all those pasties! I’m jus’ sayin’… Dreeeeeam date!!!), and the other kitchen and counter staff are all top-notch as well!

Karen herself is a very kind, humble, and approachable lady. She is always smiling, and is very gracious, and generous. I honestly feel lucky when she comes over to my table to say hi. A visit from the artist herself!

Now, don’t cry, other various bakers, bakeries, and cake designers around town. I love you too — for realzies — and you all have your merits and charms. I’ll review you soon, I promise!

Karen is special though. A special person with a special talent.

Do yourself a favor, and head over to her cafe as soon as you can. Put a few extra dollars in your pocket, because, as always, excellence is not cheap, but well worth it!stu_helm_2013

Stu Helm is an artist and writer living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing restaurant reviews strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook in 2013.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. Tiptop54 January 12, 2014


  2. Craig January 8, 2014

    Where else can you find a discussion of gluten-free eclairs and four-letter words? Not that I’m looking for one (the eclair or the discussion). Someone should alert the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, so they can add their considerable wealth to support the best f*ing eclair in Asheville, wherever it may be found.

  3. biguglybrown January 7, 2014

    Your language is a little too clean. I enjoy the well used f bombs among other brilliant expressions.
    Don’t let the haters get to you.
    BE true to yourself.
    I cant wait to get some real pastries from her. This town lacks in good bakers who actually get the fuck up in the morning and bake. Day old baked goods suck ass!

  4. Big Al January 6, 2014

    Who doesn’t like sunshine? Just curious.

    1. Jake January 7, 2014


      1. Big Al January 7, 2014

        Is Stu a vampire?

  5. robyn January 6, 2014

    Totally agree with loving the case- most beautiful pastries this side of the pond.
    My bias is healthy and local- tho I will put taste over either of those if it is worth it and there we have to disagree. I have tasted almost everything in the case and to me, they still look better than they taste.
    I know you will get to Farm and Sparrow, andI can’t wait to read the review- well, I will wait!
    always appreciate your take on the cake and your honest opinion.

    1. burnsey January 7, 2014

      Perhaps it is the difference between a traditional pastry, and what we have come to expect? I too was initially disappointed, expecting sweeter fillings and icings, but have come to realize, that is the American way to enjoy pastry. Savor the difference.

  6. LEW January 6, 2014

    Stu, someone told me they are 100% gluten free. Sounds too good to be true. Do you happen to know? Thanks!

    1. Stu Helm January 6, 2014

      Hi LEW! I don’t know for sure, but I am fairly confident in saying no, they are not gluten free. I don’t know of a gluten free bakery in town, but Posana has a gluten free menu from top to bottom, including some delicious sweets.

      1. LEW January 6, 2014

        Thanks Stu – yes, Posana is great! I can go in and order anything and not give it a second thought!

      2. Jason W. January 6, 2014

        I’m not trying to hijack the thread, but Dolci di Maria in Black Mountain has a dedicated gluten-free Bakery.

        1. LEW January 6, 2014

          Thank you – I will definitely check them out!

        2. Stu Helm January 6, 2014

          Thanks for the info, Jason!

  7. Mike Terenzi January 6, 2014

    Do they a eclaires? I love eclaires

    1. Stu Helm January 6, 2014

      This might sound funny on the heals of the rave review above, Mike, but I actually think that Olde Europe on Broadway has the best Eclairs in the Known Universe. Karen Donatelli is best over-all, but the eclairs at OE can not be beat. 2 for 1 on Wednesdays! I love eclairs too, and OE does them just right.

      1. Foothills Dweller January 6, 2014

        Older Europe is awesome – I took my husband there for the first time last year, and he loved it.

        1. LEW January 7, 2014

          Greenlife also has awesome eclairs – definitely worth checking out!

          1. Real Talk January 7, 2014

            Whole Foods (Greenlife) uses pastry cream out of a bucket.

      2. Brooke January 8, 2014


  8. Foothills Dweller January 6, 2014

    I’ve been wanting to go there for some time now. I’ve seen pics of her cakes and they’re some of the most intricately decorated I’ve ever seen. When we’re in Asheville I have no problems pulling the husband into a dessert shop.


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