By Michael Fitzgerald / Record Columnist
Posted Mar 4, 2015 at 12:01 AM

Stocktonians are funny about high-priced food. The city may be the only one in America where a $10 hamburger was a mayoral campaign issue (in 2008, over the Paragary’s subsidy).
Right now, what Stocktonians think about exceptionally good dining at high prices is being aired on the Facebook page of Midgley’s Public House.

Midgley’s, which opened in Lincoln Center last November, charges up to $50 per dinner entrée. If a party of two has appetizers, drinks and dessert, the bill’s going north of $100.

The price, high for Stockton, has led some people to object indignantly, almost as if restaurant prices not affordable to everyone are a violation of the social covenant.

“The final cost of lunch was $60,” ‘Da B’ wrote on Yelp. “Definitely don’t feel the food I had was worth that. And I’m not cheap.”

“Very over-priced,” wrote Dale R. “We had 2 pasta dishes @ $28 each. 2 beers, 1 glass of wine, 1 dessert and 1 coffee for $100 + tip. The pasta … should have been around $15.”

This carping exasperates Chef Michael Midgley. “They’re mad because they came into a restaurant that was expensive,” Midgley said. “They didn’t think that would ever happen in Stockton. It was disrespectful. How dare you!”
Midgley defended the prices. “You know what? Beef doesn’t cost less because I’m buying it in Stockton. I’m paying the same as the guy in San Francisco.”
He wasn’t done venting. “This isn’t a taqueria,” Midgley proclaimed. “This isn’t a sandwich shop. It’s a steak house with quality, certified angus beef.”

Let’s go back. Midgley is a celebrity chef. A contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” he won the Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen.” He did judging stints on “Knife Fight” and “Top Chef Masters.”
Midgley is modest about it. “I don’t think I’m a celebrity at all. Who hasn’t been on reality TV these days?” What really matters is that Midgley, a graduate of California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, is exceptionally creative. His menu is full of surprises.

To cite one appetizer, his Asparagus Cigars feature asparagus with cream cheese in egg roll wrappers, over a sweet chili sauce. Suddenly, the city that had an Asparagus Festival is looking at something new.
Yet the kvetching continues. So Midgley wrote a can-I-get-an-Amen on his Facebook page.

“People keep saying my restaurant is priced high for Stockton. I think some people just compare everything to Applebee’s in this town. … Speak up if you understand that good stuff cost a few bucks more.” There followed an affirmation of 139 “likes” and dozens of comments. Unless Midgley’s deleting negative comments, almost all agreed: exceptional food is worth the price.
Tiffany Precissi: “Stockton needs more of what you are offering. We deserve quality restaurants too!”

Jennifer Pascua: “It’s just like the hair industry in a sense. If you go to the $6-dolla’-make-ya-holla shop, you’re going to get a $6 hair cut.” Jason Edwards: “Quality ingredients, unique dishes, and knowledgeable preparation by skilled professionals should cost more than soup out of a bag served by whatever guy filled out an app that week to keep his parole officer off his back.”

I had lunch at Midgley’s. The menu offered lunch dishes up to $28. I steered clear of that one and had the steak salad ($15). Fifteen dolla makes you holla. The meat was as good as meat gets.

I was amused to note a $10 hamburger on the menu.

Maybe Stocktonians are spoiled. Innumerable ma and pa restaurants offer darned good food for $8. City eateries are a time warp of 1970s prices. We take that for granted, I guess. But when a chef pairs wonton chips with dip made of ahi chunks, wasabi caviar, avocado, cilantro, green onion and seaweed salad, it’s not going to be like free chips and salsa.

On the other hand, service and ambiance are also important. Early Yelp reviews suggest Midgley’s service was initially uneven. I can understand going off the deep over a $200 tab if service was poor. Though when I ate there, service was really good. Midgley ventured out of the kitchen and said hi to customers. As for ambiance, it’s a nice room. Nothing remarkable like the menu. Some gripe the concrete floors make it too noisy. It is noisy. Just not as noisy as Stocktonians when the check comes.

— Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or . Follow him at and on Twitter .

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