When I heard the name Signs I wondered if long-haired freaky people could apply or whether I needed a membership care to get inside. As I looked more into the restaurant, I found myself humming the five man electrical band lyrics out loud. Signs is another of a number of emerging restaurants which attempt to bring different humanitarian efforts into the kitchen. With restaurants like Paintbox and Hawthorne, which work on skills training (the former focuses on training and career path opportunities for people in the Regent Park area) and O.Noir, (whose theme is an awareness and employment of the blind by serving food in the dark), Signs provides career opportunities and growth for the Deaf in the hospitality industry.
Upon arrival you are greeted by a hostess who explains the process: You are served by somebody who is deaf and you sign your order using the prompts outlined on the menu. Sounds easy…it’s not. I’m the kind of guy who has struggled with every map and instruction manual ever made. This effort was no different. Take the beer list for example. I attempted to order a $9 cracked canoe using gestures that looked like Ralph Macchio cleaning Pat Morita’s car. The waiter sort of laughed and showed me the correct way; you simply make a zigzag with your finger to symbolize “cracked” and simulate paddling a canoe.
The decor is clean and fresh and the walls are lined with posters demonstrating how to sign letters of the alphabet along with a few important words including important potent potables such as Whisky and Vodka.
For dinner, I started with the $5 soup of the day (chicken and spinach I believe) which I once again failed sign properly and in my panic forgot to take a picture of. It was well-balanced and not overly salty.
For an entree I decided on the chicken piri-piri for $28. To order it, you had to sign a chicken (which is like giving yourself a beak) and signal the heat sign which is like making a fanning motion in front of your mouth. It was a bit slow to arrive and when it did, it was pretty average. It had moderate spice and was served with blandish roasted vegetables and a sweet potato side. The plate was very orange and looked a bit like a Halloween hangover.
For dessert, I decided against the 30 minute apple crisp (they offer a 30 minute dessert they bake from scratch nightly) that the rest of the table ordered and opted for the $9 Nutella Tiramisu instead. Once again, it was average at best although I enjoyed that despite using sickly sweet nutella, the use of cocoa powder among other things managed to keep it from turning it into a cloying confection.
Located on Yonge near Wellesley, Signs is definitely more of a tourist destination than one for a foodie. It gets good reviews on yelp and urbanspoon and is ranked 15th among over 6000 restaurants in Toronto on Tripadvisor. The space is large, roomy and clean and the staff are kind and courteous. There is humility when you order, especially if you have no spatial reasoning capabilities. The food is average at best but in the end didn’t necessarily diminish the experience. You also pay for the experience. A pint of cracked canoe is a whopping $9 and the chicken piri piri was $28. At least you can get a bowl of good soup for $5.
Signs is a mix of tourism and novelty sprinkled with hints of decent food In the end, is a humbling reminder that not everybody can hear bacon sizzle, hum Five Man Electrical Band or listen to Peter Cetera sign about the Glory of Love while the Karate Kid courts his girl with moves that look like me trying to order a pint of beer.