Alex Winnicki of Satay Brothers. Photos by Tracey Lindeman
“Eat and get out.”
Well, maybe the Satay Brothers’ brand-new restaurant in St-Henri is a little friendlier than, say, the Soup Nazi’s lunch counter. And in Alex Winnicki’s defence, he says that with a charming, if sly, smile, but with a 20-seat capacity dining room, he definitely means business.
As the Hen’s Singaporean food-slinging duo, Alex and his brother Matt (30 and 31, respectively) have made a name for themselves over the past two years with their popular summertime Atwater Market kiosk and guest cooking appearances at a handful of Montreal restaurants. But it’s only after having recently transformed half of their production kitchen on St-Jacques (which they renovated themselves) into a dining room that they’ve solved the issue of the seasonal slump.
Throughout the summer months, the line-ups for laksa, steamed pork or tofu buns and papaya salad get a little out of hand, particularly at lunchtime on the weekends.
“We can’t do the same type of volume here that we do at the market,” Alex says.
However, as Matt explained when I first arrived, one bonus visitors to the storefront will enjoy, besides a pint of Creemore Springs, is their fried noodle dishes. “To get noodles with the right flavour, you need a really high flame and a hot wok,” Alex says later.
Satay may be the name of the game, but there are other Singaporean staples to be had here. Three pieces of satay of the day — so, grilled meat on a stick, or its sandwich counterpart — will set you back $7 (tax in), while a pork or tofu bun is $4. Then there’s green papaya salad ($6), laksa lemak (a spicy noodle soup; $9, or $11 with chicken) and mee goreng (noodles and seafood; $9).
Last year’s guest spot at Le Caffe Mariani on Notre-Dame W., where they served a prix fixe meal, proved to be delicious. I am not known to be a connoisseur of Asian cuisine, or really even all that much of a fan, but I thoroughly enjoyed my meal, even if my dining companion burned her oesophagus with the laksa. Be forewarned: it really is spicy.
When I visited the new spot yesterday morning, I was served what Alex and Matt call “Asian coffee” — nutty, with a chicory flavour that recalled, for me, memories of drinking a similar-tasting brew on the outdoor terrasse of Café du Monde in New Orleans. They’d served it to a Frenchman the other day who’d made a face at the taste, and were unsure of whether to continue serving it. (They should.)
A family affair
The moniker “Satay Brothers” is perhaps a tad misleading when you consider that their Singaporean Chinese mother, Kim, has been steadily working alongside her boys, particularly since retiring from nursing last year. She helps main chef Matt develop recipes, acting chiefly as a flavour and authenticity guide and dessert-maker.
A framed picture of her from 30 years ago overlooks the dining room; to say the Winnicki brothers found inspiration in their mother and her ancestry (despite having a Polish name) would be an understatement. “She always wanted to open a noodle shop,” Alex says.
As the brothers enter their second week of business on St-Jacques, their clientele has, so far, been familiar to these St-Henri lifers. “We’re only on our seventh day, and 75 per cent of the customers, we recognize them,” Alex says. “People are happy. We’re such a neighbourhood business.” ■
Satay Brothers (3911 St-Jacques, corner Laporte) is open Wednesday from 10:30 a.m.–6 p.m. and Thursday through Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Takeout or eat-in, cash only.
Photos from top to bottom: dining room; desserts (kueh salat and coco lime cupcakes) and in-progress steamed buns