The city of Crowley is known as the rice capital of the world, home to the annual Rice Festival and also home to the Rice Palace, a locally-owned restaurant that opened its doors back in 1994.
It’s a peaceful, quiet place where locals and travelers alike can relax over a homey meal and simply take a breather. Soft rock ‘n’ roll classics play in the background. The dinning room is a wide open space done in oak paneling and painted a soothing pale green color reminiscent of Chinese jade. Black and white photographs on the walls show Crowley’s history and development, including pictures of the local agribusiness and several shots of then-Sen. John F. Kennedy attending 1961 Rice Festival. The air is casual.
The food, too, is casual, and, according to General Manager Daniel Fontenot, based on replacing the home-cooked favorites many people simply don’t have the time to prepare for themselves, such as gumbos and rice dishes.
The gumbo appears humble in the bowl, almost plain, but it is reasonable spiced and flavorful. The soups- beef vegetable and crawfish corn- are decidedly home-made, thick, chunky, more like stews than soups, and satisfying to an empty belly. There also are the standard gumbos, crawfish etouffee, red beans, sausage and rice to consider, as well as traditional favorites, such as Southern fried steak and shrimp po-boys. The seafood portion of the menu features crawfish-Tasso fettuccini, along with crab cakes, grilled rainbow trout and oyster dinners. Choices also include sandwiches, salads, burgers, and steaks (a temperature chart for the latter is thoughtfully included on the menu) and a nightly special. There is a modest selection of wine and beer available, and dessert is included with the meal.
The Rice Palace was founded at its current location in 1994 by a group of investors and the Gielen family. Renovations five years later transformed it from an 88-seat restaurant to a 165-seat hall with adjacent banquet room and 82 employees to tend to customers’ needs. The facility also includes a casino and amenities for the truckers who come through daily. Over the years, the Gielen family bought controlling interest and finally gained complete ownership of the Palace; currently, the chief owner is L.J. Gielen.
The Gielens are members of the Crowley chamber of commerce and as such are involved not only with the Rice Festival, but also with “Business After Hours,” an annual Christmas event designed to help promote and strengthen the local business community. In addition, the Palace is involved with aiding various local charity organizations.
Because it is open 24 hours a day, every day, the restaurant is able to handle early birds and night owls and everyone in between. Breakfast is served until 11 am. There is a lunch buffet through Thursday, with a seafood buffet Friday and Saturday night. The Rice Palace is located at 2015 N. Cherokee Dr. in Crowley, and the staff can be reached at (337) 783-3001.
-The Acadian, May 2007, by Emerald Forrest