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Gastro Roundup: Best Food of 2011

You could call 2011 the Year of the Foodie in Fairfield County. Plenty of new restaurants and specialty food shops made the scene. And some old standbys were serving up anything but standard fare. Even some farmers’ markets kicked things into high gear. Here is a quick roundup of some of the best food I had all year.

Best Italian: Madonia — This North Stamford gem of a restaurant isn’t new, but it was hands down the best Italian meal I had all year. The understated elegance of the space sets the scene for the inspired creations coming out of Chef Enzo Bruno’s kitchen. You can read my review here . Madonia is located at 1297 Long Ridge Road in Stamford. Call 203-322-8870 for reservations.

Best New Burger Joint: Shake Shack — Westport enjoyed a restaurant renaissance in 2011. The revival of the dining scene included the arrival of celebrated burger joint Shake Shack. Lines were out the door for weeks, and the Westport police were forced to direct traffic into and out of the parking lot for just as long. What was all the fuss? Shake Shack serves up delicious Shackburgers with a special sauce in an airy, contemporary space. Paired with one of the chain’s signature shakes, it makes for an old-school burger joint experience gone totally 21st century. And the Shackmeister Ale is awfully tasty. You can read about Shake Shack’s opening here . I should mention, however, that this category would have been a lot tougher to decide if Station Eats (formerly Filling Station) had opened its Stamford location this year. Look for it in early 2012. Shake Shack is located at 1849 Post Road E. in Westport.

Best New Foodie Shop: Saugatuck Craft Butchery — Owner Ryan Fibiger is changing the way Fairfield County thinks about its food. Late in 2011, he opened Saugatuck Craft Butchery and billed it as a “modern twist on a traditional craft.” Fibiger is committed not just to serving good meat at his butchery, but also to helping people understand what they’re eating. Fibiger serves only humanely raised, antibiotic and hormone-free meats sourced from well-researched farmers who are as dedicated as he. It sure beats the “mystery meat” you’re likely to find at some big-name supermarkets. Saugatuck Craft Butchery is located at 575 Riverside Ave. in Westport. Call 203-226-MEAT (6328).

Best Caterer: Food Design — Chef Michael Batt and Gallia, his wife and business partner, have created something truly special with their Greenwich-based catering company, Food Design. In addition to incorporating Chef Batt’s four-star restaurant pedigree into what they serve, they take a highly personalized approach to what they do, unlike any caterer I have ever encountered. Food Design also offers premade meals customized to suit your diet. And in 2012, the Batts are rolling out a doctor-designed cleans to help kick start your metabolism in the most delicious way. Read more about my visit with Chef Batt here . Food Design is located at 28 Old Field Point Road in Greenwich. For more information, call 203-622-0725.

Best Farmers’ Market: Westport Farmers’ Market — Under the direction of Lori Cochran-Dougall, this Thursday farmers’ market has gone from good to great. Now a year-round Westport institution, the market partners with local chefs regularly for demos, presentations and events. It’s a true community dedicated to delicious, sustainable eating. The Westport Winter Farmers’ Market is held Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Gilbertie’s Herb Garden, located at 7 Sylvan Lane in Westport.

Best Chinese: China White — Chinese food gets a bad rap outside of Chinatown. But the cB5 Restaurant Group gurus have done much to change that. Their restaurant and noodle bar, China White, has reinvented Chinese dining and elevated it to a sleek, gourmet experience. China White is located at 249 Railroad Ave. in Greenwich and 578 Anderson Hill Road in Purchase, N.Y.

Other spots worth a mention include:

Saugatuck Grain & Grape for wine, spirits and a playful education in all things fermented.

Connie's Cakes for the best Midwestern-style coffee cakes on the Eastern seaboard.

Tarry Lodge for the best in boldface-name dining outside of Manhattan.

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