The Best Burger in Modesto

Scott Bartenhagen, songwriter

Scott Bartenhagen, songwriter

Scott Bartenhagen and I sit down at what we’re told is the magnetic center of downtown Modesto’s Barking Dog Grill. The chairs reduce him quite admirably, considering his imposing height, but as soon as Scott opens his mouth, you forget all about how he towers over you.

“How’s the chi at this table?” I ask if he means feng shui. “Feng shui, yeah. How’s the feng shui?”

Assured by our waiter that, in addition to its magnetic centeredness, our table does indeed possess fantastic feng shui, we sit down to what I’ve promised him is the best burger in Modesto.

I hope I’m right.

Local songwriter Scott Bartenhagen and I are in search of the best burger in Modesto, but our story begins quite a few years ago. As young as he is now (in a phone conversation just before arriving, he forgets briefly that we could meet at a bar, now that he is 21), he was practically a babe in arms when we first met. He arrived as part of a very talented band called Project Fairway (and eventually just Fairway) that managed to surprise everyone in Studio B thatmorning with the complexity and maturity of their music.

I didn’t see him again after that for a number of years, until, at the urging of a mutual friend, I contacted Scott and asked him to play the Sunday night local music show I’d been running. Listening to a Scott Bartenhagen song while looking right at him, it’s difficult not to call shenanigans. Certainly not on his musical ability; both his voice and his guitar are coaxed by him into trickling warm tones that compliment his style and subject matter. It dawns on you eventually that it’s his content: surely, such a young man can’t sing so earnestly, and with such a twinkle in his eye, about such mature subject matter. You can’t do it: he is absolutely sincere, as though his soul contains the knowledge of several lifetimes.

I’m mid-question as he takes the first bite of his burger, his eyes rolling back in his head. I fall silent, awaiting his judgment.  “Can I just do this for a second?” I tell him to take his time. “Actually, I might need to take another bite.” Scott chews thoughtfully, and swallows before pronouncing it the best burger in Modesto.

We’re here because burgers figure strongly into his current mindset. He tells me of a fateful trip to a burger joint, by himself, where he decided he was just going to try it with everything on there. All of the accoutrements he usually avoided, draped over his burger like a cloak made of The Unknown.

“I never knew lettuce and tomato could be so delicious on a burger before that,” he says, and I know he can taste it on his memory. “So now, I’ve just stopped saying no. I don’t say no to all kinds of stuff now.”

It’s an auspicious mental frame to be in, for a young man in his position. He’s caught the attention of several worthy patrons, whose identities he asked me to keep off the record, but it sounds like they’ve got him pointed in the right direction: if all goes according to plan, he’ll play the Taylor Guitars showcase at Austin’s South by Southwest. He’s perched on the cusp of manhood, of success, and of self-realization.

He grins, washing down a bite of his new favorite hamburger.

“I just have to keep saying yes.”

Listen to Scott Bartenhagen’s music at scottbartenhagen.com, try one of the fantastic burgers at The Barking Dog Grill, on 11th St. between I and J inModesto, and listen to John Chimpo daily on B92-NINE, online at b929.com

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John Chimpo is on the air daily on B92.9 from 4-10pm.