Donna Bell’s Bake Shop Bring Southern Food to Midtown West
Until only recently, it seems like the lunchers on the Western edge of Midtown had the short end of the stick when it came to lunch. I think most folks would agree that the Hells Kitchen / Theater District area was one of the worst offenders in mediocre, high priced, tourist centric food. Yet, with the opening of places like Mooncake Foods, Totto Ramen, or Cha Pa’s, the scene is enjoying a re-birth of interesting and reasonably priced lunch options. Donna Bell’s Bake Shop, which recently opened in the Worldwide Plaza, right across the street from West End Bar & Grill, is another welcome face in the changing lunch landscape of Midtown West.
It would be an understatement to call Donna Bell’s a Mom & Pop shop. The restaurant is co-owned by actress Pauley Parrette, who currently plays a leading role in CBS’s NCIS. Additionally, a lease inside Worldwide Plaza requires some serious financial leverage and a deep pocketed investor. But the ladies behind the counter on my visit were as nice as could be, and helpfully pointed me towards the curry chicken salad sandwich ($8.50) when I inquired what I should eat for lunch. I also couldn’t help myself from ordering a side of mac & cheese ($5).
As they prepared my lunch, I took stock of the good looking line-up of baked goods, which are supposedly recipes of Ms. Parrette’s mother, the original Donna Bell, and an expert at Southern cuisine. There were impressive cookies, tasty looking savory biscuits, and cupcakes of course. There are also sweet scones, biscuit sandwiches and muffins, available during breakfast service.
Despite being pre-packaged, my curry chicken sandwich was ostensibly fresh, and plump with a generous layer of lightly curried chicken salad. I was worried that the wheat bread would be insufferably soggy, but the staff promised that the sandwich had been made only a few hours ago, and I found that to be the case, as the texture didn’t suffer as much as I feared. In fact, the luscious chicken salad had been peppered with crunchy bits of celery and chopped lettuce to give it more textural contrast. At $8.50, it’s a pricey sandwich, but thoroughly enjoyable.
On the other hand, I was less impressed by the mac & cheese, which suffered from a multitude of sins; overpriced for the portion, stodgy, and incredibly greasy. It also lacked the familiar sharpness and creaminess of a good mac & cheese. Unfortunately, I couldn’t recommend this dish in good conscience.
Putting the mac & cheese snafu aside, I’m excited to eat my way through the breakfast and lunch menu at Donna Bell’s. The baked goods are enticing, and their signature breakfast sandwich of cheddar cheese and ham in a buttermilk biscuit sounds like a winner. Midtown West may never be a destination neighborhood for foodies, but this is step in the right direction.
Donna Bell’s Bake Shop, 301 West 49th St (at 8th Ave); 212-582-8463