Look at the Canon SX10IS and S5IS models. They are "high end" point and shoots and do pretty well for about $340.
You can get a refurb S5IS from Canon for $219. It's an 8mp 12x zoom model with all the manual settings.
The SX10IS is a 10mp with 20x zoom. It reatails for $340 on Amazon.
I have the SX10IS model and while I'm still learning with it, I really like it so far. I fully understand it will not be SLR type photos, but for what I do with them it does a pretty damn good job. If I do my part it has enough quality for 8x10 or smaller prints.
I did a lot of research in the high end P&S market before buying, and couldn't be happier with this camera.
An SLR is in my future, but like you said, I don't have the $1000-$2k to drop on one yet.