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When you visit the world-famous Hearst Castle visitor's center, you expect to find all the usual amenities that cater to tourists, including the usual ho-hum food.  One thing that you don't expect to find is barbecue.  So, when we finished our tour of the castle, we just had to get some barbecue.

Left:  Hearst Castle BBQ Co's menu is short and simple, but features great food.  Right:  The outdoor dining area, with the pitmaster at work towards the right of the photo.

The Hearst Castle BBQ Co. is located in an open courtyard, behind the visitor's center, adjacent to the theater. There is a cashier's booth where you make your selection and, of course, pay for your meal. Then, you pick up plastic utensils, napkins, paper plates, drinks (your choice of Pepsi or diet Pepsi), if you ordered them, and then your food.  It's the best service in the world, and you are the server!

You eat your food in a pleasant, open courtyard.  You can also watch the pit boss at work, and he'll be happy to explain the operation to you if you're interested.  The Hearst Castle BBQ Co isn't really barbecue, as the food is grilled over a gas grill in the courtyard. However, since most folks think of any food cooked outdoors as barbecue, I suppose the name is appropriate.

Left:  Propane-fired outdoor grills cook chicken to the left, and tri-tip to the right.  Right:  A table under the canopy and one of the many uninvited guests.  Gee, I never that the chance to learn this crow's name...

When you dine, you will never dine alone, as Hearst Castle BBQ seems to attract crows, by the hundreds.  There are all shapes and sizes of crows, and by the looks of them, several generations are represented.  These aren't you average crows that you see in the park, as these guys are aggressive, intelligent and, above all, hungry!  Don't even think of turning your back on your food, or the crows will do a quick snatch-'n'fly.  The pit boss told me it happens several times a day to unsuspecting patrons, and he couldn't supress a chuckle over that.

I got into a conversation with the pit boss about barbecue, and then the topic shifted to the "unwanted guests," e.g., the many crows, which congregate, perch and surround the whole courtyard where the barbecue guests dine. He told me that they've tried many methods to deter them, including scarecrows, shiny metal ribbons, enclosing the courtyard with netting and loud music.  Since their business is on state property, they can't use such nasty methods as dogs or poison.  Whatever methods management tries to discourage, or more frankly put, get rid of the crows, the crows seem to be able to figure out how to work around any obstacle, and they seem to invite all of their brothers, sisters, friends and shirt-tail relatives to join the party.  It's funny to note that all of the meat is cooked on high heat; if the meat was cooked low and slow, the crows would snatch it off of the grill!  These aren't your average crows, as these guys are good at what they do!

It's probably obvious to the casual reader that I don't have any connections to Hearst Castle BBQ Co., as I doubt that management would approve of this article, as it tends to focus on the antics of the original, and indigenous citizens, although considered unwelcome guests, the many crows in attendance.

Photos:  Mike, Hearst Castle BBQ Co's friendly pitmaster at work doing what he does best, grilling tri-tip steak.  He took the time to answer all of my questions about their operation and about their on-going war on the crows.

I had a grilled polish sausage on a bun and beans, and Sharlene had a tri-tip sandwich.  The food was good, not great and is obviously meant to cater to casual tourists, rather than hard-core barbecue aficionados.  Since it was grilled on a gas grill, there was no hint of smoke.  So, I really wouldn't call it barbecue.

When we finished our meal, Sharlene had a small piece of meat with a little too much gristle on it to suit her taste.  As we were leaving, we set it on the table and it was gone in a fraction of a second, thanks to several hungry crows.  These guys are very competitive amongst their peers, and all of them seem to be experts at the snatch, grab and fly technique.

Left:  Sharlene enjoys her tri-tip sandwich as my polish sausage sandwich combo is show on the table.  Right: Caught in the act, I catch some of the many crows in the fly-and-grab act after I'd thrown a small piece of Sharlene's sandwich on the table.

Will we come back?  You bet!  However next time we visit Hearst Castle, I'll bring some scraps to feed the crows, although I'll probably hide them in a backpack, as I suspect that my antics would not be appreciated by management. Hey folks, that's entertainment!

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