Cardinal Rule has been open since May 2011, and in that relatively short time they’ve won awards a plenty, and shown up on Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here.
I’ve been to Cardinal Rule twice. Once for brunch, once for a late lunch. I ended up ordering the same thing both times, and it was interesting to find how dramatically different those two times were.
The first time gave me a really positive impression of the place. The server was really nice, seemed to like it there, and was knowledgeable about the menu. Second time around the traditional Parkdale attitude showed up in the form of a different server, unhelpful, and indifferent. So that’s something to consider. If the latter had been my first impression, I’d probably end up going somewhere else in the future.
I wondered why it had taken me so long to actually go in, but it’s mostly because from the outside, it just looks like a greasy spoon kitchen with nothing to offer me food-wise but once you walk through the door it looks like a fun little diner. The tables are a cacophony of photos of vintage and wannabe vintage images (I mean this in a good way – I think.) The menu is colour coded with vegan, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, gluten-free designated by symbols. There is probably something there for everyone which is a plus if you have non-vegan in laws that don’t want to eat vegetarian food.
On the first visit I had the phish and chips, it’s crispy deep-fried pieces of tofu, with a tender, almost flaky texture. It comes with a side of chips, and upon the suggestion of our nice server, I got it with the spicy vegan mayo tartar sauce. It was delicious, and the portion size was great.
Second time around the portions were not quite as awesome. Tofu was about half the size as the first, and I ordered a side of potato latkes (worth noting that they do not have vegan sour cream) which were oddly mashed with an interior of chalky starchy weirdness. But on the plus side, since I wasn’t given an option to decide on a tartar sauce, the regular house made vegan one is actually pretty good.
JC went there for dinner one evening after my 2 visits (without me) and ordered the dish I was most curious about, but couldn’t order because it wasn’t after 5pm. The Veggie Volcano (Red wine peppercorn gravy, poured over peal onions, seasonal veggies, and a meatless loaf towered atop potato & leek latkes.) The report was that the latkes included with the dish were good, and I’ll have to trust his opinion on that, the man knows his latkes.
Regardless of issues with service, I’d still be curious to try them out on a Saturday or Sunday for brunch, and see what they look like on a busy day. Overall, the food is still tasty, and with the benefit of no palate left unsatisfied it has a lot of potential, I think it’s just a matter of rolling the dice and coming in at a good time.
Other stuff to know: Closed on Mondays, they serve alcohol, certain dishes are limited to certain times of the day.