Buddhism is frequently described by itself as "the middle way". Here is a link to a fairly typical description of this idea http://www.beyondthenet.net/dhamma/middleway.htm
Basically the teaching is that the Buddha established a path that avoided the extremes of materialistic over indulgence or the extreme of severe asceticism. According to the Pali scriptures the Buddha was first a prince who had every material pleasure available and left that to become a forest asthetic and studied under other Hindu aesthetics. He is occasionally depicted in this asthetic "phase" like in this icon http://ibuddhist.tumblr.com/post/576...tarving-buddha
So during achieving enlightenment he lets go of his extreme asceticism as well and uses a middle or moderate path to enlightenment.
To a westerner without the context of Hindu asthetics and where monasticism in general is fringe at best within the culture, it is hard to really appreciate what the early Buddhist texts are saying. Is this a reaction against the very austere yogis? Aren't there also Hindu monastics that take a reasonably "moderate" path? Is the refraining against over indulgence as a path to enlightens just saying empty pleasures can't truly satisfy you or was there a belief at the time of some sort of supra-hedonism. (Like "left handed" tantra which to be honest I know very little about). It seems to me this middle path teaching is directed at a Hindu or converts from Hindu audience.
Intetestingly, in looking again at the idea of the middle path, I've seen it interpreted more broadly as a path of having detached observation and not adhering to specific doctrines or philosophic camps. This is very true, but isn't the sense I get when I read the scriptures myself. It seems the Buddha is reacting against two specific "paths" or methods of freedom from suffering present in his day and age.