Many slang terms for money are also names of food: bread, dough, clams. (The green leafies are in on it too - cabbage, lettuce and kale - due to the green of U.S. bills, though I've never heard anyone call money "kale.") The connection between food and money runs deep. But if you know where to look, great food doesn't have to cost more than crappy food. Avoid the mediocre food out there going at primo prices. You won't squander your calories or your cabbage at these home-grown Madison food establishments.
(543 State St. and Library Mall)
The restaurant and food cart's signature dish, the excellent chicken peanut stew, is a comforting blend of chicken and red potatoes in a peanutty gravy ($6.50 at lunch). Like all of Buraka's entrees, it can be ordered over rice or served atop injera, the spongy sourdough crepe/pancake/bread that is the base for traditional African meals. Other stews include the siga alicha (beef and potatoes in a mild curry sauce), dorowat (chicken and carrots), minchet abish (beef, tomatoes and lentils) and begwot (lamb stew). The lunches come with a wonderful tart salad of lentils and onions. Half orders are available at the cart.
Kipp's Down-Home Cookin'
(1614 Monroe St.)
The richest, creamiest mac and cheese to be found comes from Kipp's Down-Home Cookin' on Monroe Street across from the stadium. This must be made with cream, maybe even cream cheese. It has a velvety super-richness without having a super-cheesiness. If there's a drawback, it's that the elbow macaroni is on the mushy side. A side dish on the Kipp's menu, it comes in regular ($3) and large ($5). And Kipp's delivers.
(625 State St.)
The claim to fame is homey Middle Eastern food with daily specials topping out at $6.25. When the sweet-and-savory chicken apricot pie's on the special board, it's hard to resist, but then so is anything that comes with the cafe's smooth, creamy hummus. (A side of hummus with pita is $2.75.) Soup of the day (and they have a killer avgolemono) is just $1.50.
(411 W. Gilman St.)
The all-you-can-eat buffet costs $6.33 with tax (with another 75 cents for a fountain beverage). Buffet-to-go is $3/lb. Head for items that have been recently restocked. The best of the apps are steamed pork-filled dumplings with a tangy gyoza sauce. The pepper chicken, which was heavily black peppered, was the one chicken dish where the chicken itself hadn't been overcooked to chewiness. Borrow the excellent large mushrooms from the MaLa chicken; scoop broccoli from the chicken and broccoli; and add the stir-fried garlic green beans to the pepper chicken and call it an entree.
Mildred's Sandwich Shop
(827 E. Johnson St.)
A good place to find a satisfying vegetarian sandwich. The Leadbedder, a combo of mozzarella, brick, cukes, green pepper, sprouts, onions, lettuce and tomato with mayo and Mildred's dressing on whole-wheat pita ($4.75), served warm, is simple and satisfying. Weaver's Fancy ($5) is a spicier variation on the same theme. The Agurka ($3.37) - cucumbers and dilled cream cheese on pumpernickel - sounds almost too simple but is more than the sum of its parts w/r/t taste. The meat sandwiches are just as good. Go for anything that's served warm on the whole-wheat pita with the special dressing.
At this cart, daily specials come in three sizes: small ($4), medium ($5) and large ($6). It might be chicken curry Japanese style, thicker and sweeter than Indian curries, with potatoes, green beans, carrots and, of course, chicken. The futo-maki ($5) is a good-sized roll with cooked salmon, fried egg, shiitake mushroom, spinach and carrot. The inari ($5) - slightly sticky rice in a little envelope of fried tofu with a sweet glaze - is perfect dipped in the hot wasabi sauce The pretty box lunch is ornamented with a handful of edamame and a few slices of pickled ginger.
Pinkus McBride Market & Deli
(325 W. Johnson St.)
Made-to-order sandwiches are available only from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on weekdays, but the pre-made sandwich case is full of a variety of fresh combos all day, from egg salad to Blazing Buffalo Chicken. Most cost no more than $4. The meats and cheeses are Boar's Head brand. Or try the Italian Tomato Basil Wrap, which comes generously spread with pesto, as a base for a mix of Parmesan, banana peppers, black olives, tomatoes and spinach on a tomato-basil tortilla.
(114 State St.)
Sandwiches are lunch-sized - large enough to keep you going but not bog you down in the middle of the day - and made with fresh flatbread from State Street's Kabul restaurant. Ask for the sandwich warmed and it doesn't get nuked in a microwave but heated on a panini-style grill. The pleasant basil pesto, tomato and cheese sandwich transitioned from plain and cellophane-wrapped to luscious and melty during its brief sojourn on the grill. At $4.75, you could do worse. Sandwiches also come in ham and provolone, turkey and provolone, hummus and vegan.