Now, now o Caped One, I am not sure cornmeal-laden sausages are what I had in mind... Don't make me come up north and squeeze menu ideas out of you... I'll do it, ya' know!! And I'll bring the kids to wreck your house while I'm there!
* Really good quality lasagna -- preferably vegetarian -- with al dente noodles that are not dried out on top but not gloppy with cheap mozz either.
* Juicy, well-peppered fried chicken.
* Pad thai, so long as it didn't dry out.
* Just about anything -- even a well-flavored, veg-packed meatloaf -- without pasty gravy with a skin on top.
* CRISP, FRESH VEGETABLES, including some more "unusual" ones like chard, broccoli rabe, and ROAST BEET SALAD with red onions in vinaigrette or scalloped tomatoes made only with fresh, in-season tomatoes, and not swimming in watery juice.
* Creamed spinach, with real cream, and nutmeg, and a hint of garlic; or, spinach casserole with jalapeno cheese like Laurie Colwin talks about (it is sooooooo good!)
* Made-from-scratch chicken or lamb curry, with real basmati rice.
* Mainly, FRESH SEASONAL food. Not out of a Sysco freezer pack.
How about chicken Schnitzel with spatzel or german potato salad.
Also, I made chicken pot pies for family meal the other day. Everyone loved them.
A few others:
Beer braised pork "pot roast".
Nicoise Salad (hey canned tuna is cheap, and still the best for nicoise-forget the fresh stuff!)
For the veg-heads: Fresh Ratatouille over cinnamon scented couscous. Or a Grilled veg. Wellington
After making the chicken schnitzel with the breasts you have legs & thighs left over for things like Spicy Chicken Empanadas with Black Bean Sauce and Homemade crema, or Braised chicken over sage dumplings.
Pan-seared foie gras over caramelized shallot mashed potatoes with port syrup (ok, so it is over budget, but you did ask what we would like to see!!!
When I think of cafeteria I think of that chopped sirloin steak with the brown gravy and onions on top of mashed potatoes with a veggie on the side and a yeast roll. Yum. And dont forget a good piece of pie for dessert and a dish of orange jello.
Remember the school cafetaria lunch lady and those grilled cheese sandwhiches with the velveeta soaked in whirl? NOT THAT! I think $3-4 is low, but if you're a subsidized cafeteria it's totally within reach. Most cafeteria's I've been to lack ethnic offerings and are very poor in the vegetarian department. If I ran a cafetaria in a tech center, the menu would look something like this:
Variety of sushi with a good mix of vegetarian items.
Falafel, chicken shawarma, hummus and baba ghanouj.
Curries from allover the world. All served with GOOD rice, not that stuff from Uncle you know who.
Good bread with an assortment of pates and cheeses.
A good "big wok" station with all kinds off noodles and rice dishes.
And the other standard grille faire like grilled chicken sandwiches, burgers, etc.
Many cafeterias are subsidized, that is to say, they're located inside large corporations who absorb many of the costs associated with such a large facility. So you can get by with slightly lower margins on your food. Some cafeterias may run food costs up to 40%.
The guy who owns the wine store around the corner from my house gets 60% straight profit from his pates. He sells them from $10-$15 per pound. A lunch serving would be 1/4 pound max.
You can make a killing on sushi too. Those 31/35 shrimp are like a quarter each. Coupla shrimp, egg, tuna, octopus, and you're right in the ballpark. Our college cafeteria used to do sushi rolls for $1.50 apiece. But this was 10 years ago. Might be more now
Subsidizing would certainly help broaden the culinary horizons of a place that's cooking mass quantities and looking for imagination at $3-4 a pop! I worked for a large brokerage firm that subsidized their cafeteria and had excellent food. I then went to another firm that didn't subsidize their cafeteria (they ripped off their employees so many ways - their slogan should have been "we earn our money the old fashioned way, we squeeze it out of the employees") and charged restaurant prices for cafeteria food. I wound up bringing my lunch every day.
* Pot pie - a chicken-based pie with dollops of biscuit dough on top
* Swedish meatballs
Of course, a killer soup is a must in a cafeteria. Don't fall into the "iceberg" lettuce trap either, it's worth a little more money to have good greens such as romaine, leaf, red leaf, or a mix. Iceberg lettuce has absolutely no taste and for some reason, packaged iceberg is riddled with that purple cabbage people wind up picking out.
Desserts...Rice Pudding, Chocolate Pudding, Bread and/or Cabinet Pudding, cobblers and cakes with icings usually sell.
Kuan, as you could see from my early response, it's not at all pointless! The thing that can be so awful about cafeteria stuff is that it ISN'T "real" -- that is, it's been processed, and cooked, and frozen, and reheated etc. so much, it's not recognizable as FOOD anymore. The only time I worked in a cafeteria (actually worked out of it, not anything to do with the feeding), they made stuff in small batches and tried to keep it fresh looking. Even so, because so much of it was frozen Sysco to begin with, it was not all that appetizing. I cannot imagine any reason why someone would use a lot of that stuff, when it only takes a little more staff time and training to use fresh food.
BBQ with slaw and gooooood rolls
bowls of Thai or Veitnamese noodles...worth a repeat.
Various salads, grains with veg, again hummos , baba ganoush, tapenade
Flat bread pizzas
Yogurt bar.....granola, fruits, dried fruits
Breads make or break a meal....good breads
Cajun food can be inexspensive...jambayla, Gumbo, etouffee, creole
I'm making egg roulade with wild shroom duxelle for a budget meal tomorrow....
Brunchy stuff is ok too for lunch....Fritata, Quiche, omelets
My wife works in a building which is very, I mean VERY diverse. There are a lot of vegetarians there who can't stomach the "vegetarian" food at the cafeteria. Most days it's steamed frozen veggies and Uncle Ben's for their "veggie lunch special" or steamed frozen veggie "wrap." It's either that or a salad, and even the stupid dressings are all right out of a can.
I'm digressing here a bit, but this brings to mind how bad some cafeterias can be. Some vegetarians are very sensitive to animal products. They can smell animal protein in their food if it was cooked on the same grill as a hamburger. Anyway, one time these guys were in a rush and decided to strain the bacon out of the tomato soup and call it vegetarian. Man! Was that a bad move. They received so many complaints that the company decided to not renew the contract for the next year.
Back on track a bit; I was just kidding about my post being pointless. It's beyond me why people serve fried chicken foam patty sandwiches instead of a good grilled chicken breast, or why they buy those tvp burgers instead of just plain old good ground beef.