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No Rare Burgers for You!

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It was my understanding that, as of September, North Carolina changed it's rules to finally allow restaurants to serve rare burgers as long as a formulaic warning is printed on its menu. For at least the second time today, I encountered a restaurant that is unaware of/unwilling to comply with the new standard.

I had lunch today at the Red, Hot and Blue on Falls in Raleigh. One person tried to order a rare burger and was told in no uncertain terms that the kitchen would not serve a burger any less than well done. Not even medium, only well done. The proper warning was printed on the menu.

I don't even like rare burgers but this is ridiculous. We had a similar problem at the Leesville Taproom. At least they allowed medium burgers. Has anyone else encountered this problem since the rule change?

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  1. If you're in a restaurant that currently will not cook a burger under well, you're in the wrong restaurant

    1. I haven't had any problem getting a medium burger since the change, but that's as low as I'm willing to go with ground beef.

      1. LulusDad likes his MR and hasn't had any problem since the change. I'm trying to think of where we've been when he's ordered a burger. I know 501 Diner has done it; and I'm sure there have been other places but my mind seems to be blanking out of them.

        1. It has nothing to do with "complying" with a new standard. Just because the law is changed doesn't mean a business HAS to do it.

          I can see a small mom&pop serving under done burgers, but a large chain most likely will not be doing so. Their liability is much greater and on a much larger scale.

          6 Replies
          1. re: JayL

            What they are failing to comply with a reasonable customer request that many of their competitors will gladly do.. And their liability is covered by the warning printed on the menu.

            To the OP: strange that they would go to the trouble of printing the warning on the menu, and then either not train their servers or simply be unwilling to serve rare. Why bother printing the warning?

            1. re: carolinadawg

              Why bother, indeed? That's what we tried to ask the server. He did not have an answer.

              1. re: rockycat

                They'd create less negative feelings from their customers if, instead of the "consumption of undercooked ground beef" warning, they printed something to the effect that "we have decided not to serve ground meat that is cooked to an internal temperature of less than 155 degrees". At least then customers aren't left to wonder what the deal is.

              2. re: carolinadawg

                i'm no legal expert, but i doubt a warning on the menu covers them from litigation if a customer gets sick from a rare burger...

                1. re: FattyDumplin

                  That's exactly what a (relatively) new NC state law allows, as it does in many (most) other states. This issue has been thoroughly researched and discussed, and it is, in fact, true. Feel free to research it yourself if you'd like, which is probably a good idea before calling someone out.

                  1. re: carolinadawg

                    Sorry, wasn't trying to call you out... was offering a potential rationale why a restaurant wouldn't want to offer rare burgers. Always tough to properly pass on sentiment on posts :)

                    I wasn't able to find much on the issue, but the clear proxy for me was the McD's coffee case where they had printed warnings on the cup, but got sued anyways and lost.

                    The one article I did find indicated that the warning passes some, but not all of the liability back to the consumer: http://www.wfmynews2.com/story/news/l...

                    That puts the emphasis to the customer. They know. You're putting the warning out there. So if they decide to still eat it, it puts more of the liability on them and takes some of it off the restaurants." The quote comes from a restaurant owner, so maybe the issue is that owners aren't sure how much the disclaimer protects them.

            2. i was going to say your first mistake was going to a Red Hot and Blue.... but thats just my experiences with them.

              3 Replies
              1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                My dining choices tend to be a bit limited when I'm eating with my 90-year-old father. But whether I'm at a chain 'cue restaurant or at Chuck's should not be the determinant. Besides, I'm not sure how the fact that you don't like RHB changes how they serve burgers and relate to their customers.

                1. re: rockycat

                  Options workable for my parents are much less interesting than they once were...but dining with them is about spending time together not about the food. At this point I'm happy they are still able to get out and have an enjoyable time!

                  Some meals are about the food, some are about the people. How fortunate we are when the meal is about both!

                  1. re: rockycat

                    It was meant as a joke. My apologies.

                2. I like a MR burger. I've only ordered one once since the change and had no problem. It was at a local place.

                  To be honest, after years of not being able to "have it my way" burgers out have dropped off my radar.

                  Your experience makes me think it might be good to venture into burgerland equipped with a copy of the change in law.

                  I had expected your encounter was at a small place that might not have the resources in time to stay up to date. I would think most chains would have additional layers of management whose job is to be in the know. Very odd and upsetting to think that this issue remains.

                  1. What did the warning say exactly?

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: JayL

                      Here's the warning from the restaurant that served me a medium rare burger today for lunch...

                      *This item may contain raw or undercooked ingredients. Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shell fish or eggs may increase your risk of food borne illness.

                      1. re: carolinadawg

                        Was that at RH&B?

                        I was wondering specifically about the RH&B menu warning. Many places have the "consuming raw" warning while not specifying a specific menu item. It covers the entire menu. Some RH&B also serve steaks and would have the warning, and they may have it on every menu as a default.

                        Meantn3, carrying a copy of the law and trying to talk someone into doing something they don't want to do probably won't get you far. The law doesn't say they have to cook your burger...it only says they can.

                        The new law only means a restaurant doesn't have to obtain a waiver from the local health department to do what they have probably been able to do all along.

                        1. re: JayL

                          There were no waivers for this in NC. Most places would not "wink wink" take it off the grill early. This had been a case of government being overly paternal.

                          I've worked in a lot of restaurants and many owners/managers of small places are not always up to date about changes in their industry.

                          My comment about carrying a copy of the legislation was half facetious. The other half has no problem passing on information to an owner/manager if they still believe the request is illegal. If they are aware and choose this as their policy - fine.
                          But my read on Rockycats experience is that much of the staff is simply unaware.

                          1. re: meatn3

                            Sure ate my share of tartar in the past.

                            1. re: JayL

                              The classic preparation method of finely minced as opposed to ground is key.

                            2. re: meatn3

                              There were variances given in the past if a proper HACCP plan was submitted and followed.

                              1. re: JayL

                                What is an "HACCP" plan?

                                1. re: carolinadawg

                                  HACCP (pronounced "hasipp") is a set of food safety guidelines and good practices. People who have ServSafe certification have studied and been tested on these practices.

                      2. I don't know if anyone or anyone's parents use to do this but my mother always use to take a pinch of raw ground beef and eat it when she was making say the meatloaf or burgers and never once got sick from it..

                        Personally, it is my feeling that the person should be able to get it the way they want and that if the restaurant has the correct liability postings than it is on the customers head should they get sick so long as the sickness wasn't from some other contaminant such as raw egg or cross contamination.

                        This isn't like smoking where it could effect someone elses dining experience and besides there is an African dish called.. kitfo (I believe) which is essentially steak tartare. Though not served here I do believe you can get it in DC and I've never heard anyone complain about someone getting sick.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                          You can definitely get it at many of the Ethiopian restaurants in DC. I never ordered it but have been with others who did many times and they loved it and never got sick.

                          1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                            WoW! My mother did the exact same thing with raw ground beef and she would give me a taste as well. I admit I sometimes do the same. Never got sick.

                            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                              My mom always let me have a couple of bites when she made burgers or meat loaf - I loved the tickle-y feel of the raw beef on the roof of my mouth. Beef was always freshly ground, from the Clover Farm store down the street. Also ate steak tartar from an early age, then grew to like raw kibbeh and kitfo. Never got sick.

                            2. It seems like no matter what I request they're going to make it the way they want to. Sometimes it comes out medium as requested (e.g.,, Bull McCabe's) and other times it'll be well done and bone dry (e.g., last Friday at The Fed). You don't know what you're going to get until it comes out and I don't have the time to send it back.

                              1. I believe Chef Carrie at G2B in Durham will definitely make it medium rare. I can't speak for rare cause I've never heard anyone around me order it as such.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                  Seconding G2B for medium rare. Also, Firebird's at Southpoint served me a medium rare burger the other day (I was surprised because I wasn't aware of the new legislation--I only asked on a whim). It was more 'medium', and like everything at Firebird's completely overseasoned, but there you go.

                                  Honestly, now that I've had the G2B Burger, it's hard to bother going anywhere else anyway.I recommend their sweet potato wedges over the regular fries, though.

                                2. I would be hard pressed to make a burger too rare unless I grind in-house. Trusting someone else's grinding is a dangerous prospect no matter what law is in effect.

                                  37 Replies
                                  1. re: JayL

                                    I agree. I like a rare or m-rare burger...but only if I've ground or chopped the meat myself.

                                    I do think patrons should be allowed to order a burger cooked to any level of done-ness they prefer... as long as they understand that they assume the risks involved. I've worked in restaurant kitchens, and personally, I'd never order a burger out anywhere cooked less than medium.
                                    Other folks' mileage may vary.

                                    1. re: The Professor

                                      I've heard of a restaurant that has you sign a waiver before tasting the hot sauce. Maybe they could do that with rare burgers, as well.

                                      1. re: jmcarthur8

                                        They don't have to sign a waver. The law states it's legal, and most places will have a disclaimer on the menu.

                                        My issue with this isn't that people are warned and can't sue you...it's the bad PRESS such an issue could cause. No disclaimer will make up for that.

                                    2. re: JayL

                                      I respectfully disagree. I think the danger from hamburger is massively overblown by the nanny state. I won't eat a burger that's north of medium rare, and would much prefer bloody rare. I'll eat it anywhere I would eat any of the rest of the food.

                                      1. re: danna

                                        +1

                                        1. re: danna

                                          Hey, everyone is entitled to their opinion...it's ok to disagree.

                                          I personally have seen too many grinders in commercial operations that have not been cleaned properly. I was also aware of packers sweeping the cutting room floor and adding that scrap to the ground beef before it became a news story last year...that along with the pink slime of recent lore.

                                          As a business owner it is a huge liability to consider purchased ground beef as a clean product. I'd be more comfortable grinding in-house...that amount of confidence is worth alot.

                                          1. re: JayL

                                            Not only that but estimating burger consumption is pretty consistent and grinding a batch every day only takes a few minutes but OMG what a difference in the quality of the finished product. If there is any left at the end of the day use it for another menu item.

                                            1. re: Tom34

                                              Totally agree.

                                            2. re: JayL

                                              Along those lines, it is my understanding that the "have it your way" burger is only allowed if the beef is ground in-house. If the burger is prepared before it reaches the restaurant, they must serve it well-done. I do not have facts to back this up, but that is my understanding of the new rule. I think I must have read that somewhere at the time the law was being proposed. If the server doesn't ask how I want it cooked, I assume the burger meat is not ground in-house.

                                              1. re: rouxqueen

                                                Since I have not read up on the subject I may be wrong, but the new law has nothing to do with grinding in-house. You can cook any burger to rare now.

                                                Before the new law took effect you had to obtain a variance from your local health department to cook a red burger...but it was still legal then if got permission. This is where the in-house grinding came in (as part of a well detailed HACCP plan)

                                                1. re: JayL

                                                  Prior to September, 2012, there was no variance to the requirement that ground beef be cooked to an internal temperature of 155 degrees in NC. Period.

                                                  1. re: carolinadawg

                                                    That is not what the Food Code of 2009 stated. There was a variance available for those who qualify. It is in the 2009 code (and before).

                                                    1. re: JayL

                                                      NC didn't adopt the FDA 2009 Food Code until September, 2012. Prior to that date was there was no variance available to the law requiring ground beef to be cooked to an internal temperature of 155 degrees.

                                                      1. re: carolinadawg

                                                        The 2012 code (and you're right it adopted the Federal 2009 code...I moved away 4 years ago so I miss some of the nuances) only stated that the public warning was required.

                                                        The variance has been available. I had one years ago. HACCP, follow the plan, keep the records, produce the records when asked & BAM...all the red ground beef you care to cook.

                                                        1. re: JayL

                                                          Prior to September, 2012 no restaurant in NC could serve ground beef cooked to an internal temperature of less than 155 degrees. Period.

                                                          1. re: carolinadawg

                                                            OK.

                                                            LoL

                                                            1. re: JayL

                                                              Yes, lol indeed.

                                                              1. re: carolinadawg

                                                                I just find it strange that restaurants would have a variance that didn't exist. But you're the expert.

                                                                1. re: JayL

                                                                  No such variance ever existed. If you have any documentation to the contrary, I'd love to see it.

                                                                  1. re: carolinadawg

                                                                    Now how would I be able to do that? LoL

                                                                    I had one from my local health department (where they would all originate)...but that was at least 10 years ago.

                                                                    If you the documentation that says there was no variance, I'd love to see it.

                                                                    1. re: Tom34

                                                                      Got some Firefly Sweet Tea bourbon in the freezer...good stuff if you're not a bourbon fan (I'm not). Sweet, good tea flavor, and only 40 proof...so you can drink alot of it! LoL

                                                                      1. re: JayL

                                                                        At 40 proof you may need a gallon for this debate ...LOL...Just got back from the circus and stopped at a friends restaurant who grinds his own & my daughters ordered blood rare burgers....to young to date but when they do the boys may think they are vampires. Home now & into a little Wild Turkey 101.

                                                                        1. re: Tom34

                                                                          [T]oo young to date but when they do the boys may think they are vampires. "

                                                                          Nah, they'll just think they have good taste in food.

                                                                      2. re: JayL

                                                                        Here's the law that was in previously in effect:

                                                                        http://www.buncombecounty.org/common/...

                                                                        See section 15A NCAC 18A .2609

                                                                        As you can see, there is no provision for a variance to the rule requiring ground beef to be cooked to 155 degrees. Perhaps further back there was, I don't know.

                                                                        1. re: carolinadawg

                                                                          CD,

                                                                          The rules have always been written this way. There is never a rule that states a variance is available. Rules & procedures for variances are listed elsewhere in the code. You may apply for a variance for nearly any rule listed within the code. You may or may not obtain the variance you apply for. The code itself does not dictate that you must or must not be given the variance.

                                                                          Thanks for the effort, but you proved nothing by giving a 6 page excerpt of the code.

                                                                          I do hope you aren't affiliated with the State DEH or a local county HD.

                                                                          1. re: JayL

                                                                            And you have proved nothing by failing to provide any documentation of any sort. No, of course I don't work for NCDEHR or county health department. What a silly comment. However, I have spoken to health department officials in the past, who have flatly stated there were no exceptions to the 155 degree rule in effect at that time.

                                                                            1. re: carolinadawg

                                                                              And they would have been wrong in telling you that...unless it's just how their county worked. Not all counties are the same in what they allow (as long as they don't go against the state code). I'm not the only person to have had a variance for this particular code in past years. My county has given me variances for multiple things.

                                                                              I have received variances in two of three restaurants that I have owned. Also, during that time there have been multiple times when an inspector had to be taught the code while on the job (or after after an inspection when they wouldn't believe me when I kindly explained that they were wrong).

                                                                              Ok...enough is enough. You're going to continue saying BLACK and I'm going to continue saying BLUE. You ask someone about the industry and I've been IN the industry for decades. That does not mean what I say is more credible...but at least I know what HACCP is and how to obtain a variance when I want to do something that goes against the health code.

                                                                              1. re: JayL

                                                                                "Not all counties are the same in what they allow (as long as they don't go against state code)"

                                                                                Yes, and state code was 155 degrees. I actually know exactly what the variance procedure is, and in order to get a variance the restaurant has to provide scientific proof that the requested procedure is safe. Obviously, there is no way to prove that serving ground beef at less than 155 degrees is safe. The science says it isn't. Therefore, no county health department would allow that variance. No to mention that doing so would essentially be tantamount to admitting that their rule has basis in fact. No way they'd do that. And over the years I asked LOTS of people in the industry...like every time I time I tried to order a rare burger for about 20 years. Never was served one in NC.

                                                                                Here's the actual variance language:

                                                                                (4) The REGULATORY AUTHORITY grants a VARIANCE from ¶ (A) or (B) of this section as specified in § 8-103.10 based on a HACCP PLAN that:
                                                                                (a) Is submitted by the PERMIT HOLDER and APPROVED as specified under § 8-103.11,
                                                                                (b) Documents scientific data or other information showing that a lesser time and temperature regimen results in a safe FOOD, ...

                                                                                1. re: JayL

                                                                                  JayL and carolinadawg, We don't think this argument is going to be solved online, and it is probably time to just let it go. Thanks.

                                                            2. re: JayL

                                                              This has further info:

                                                              http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05...

                                                              1. re: meatn3

                                                                Up here in NJ we had a Governor who banned soft boiled eggs back in the 90's. Public outcry & ridicule resulted in the ban being overturned in a prompt fashion. I often am in a quandary when it comes to government regulation as common sense often seems to take a back seat to the need to make the public feel good.

                                                                1. re: Tom34

                                                                  Several years ago a "chef" at a small restaurant told the owners (business acquaintances of mine) that NC only allowed uncooked yolks in restaurant served eggs if the eggs had been pasteurized.

                                                                  I've tried searching and find no proof. I think she read a recommendation in her ServeSafe training and took it as law.

                                                                  " I often am in a quandary when it comes to government regulation as common sense often seems to take a back seat to the need to make the public feel good." I think for many the world just feels too complex. The default is to opt out of thinking and let the government do it for you. If you don't make a choice then you can't be held responsible for poor decisions...Does not speak well for society.

                                                                  It amazes me the amount of money, time and energy spent on Nanny legislation.

                                                                  1. re: meatn3

                                                                    "It amazes me the amount of money, time and energy spent on Nanny legislation."

                                                                    Some people are feeble of mind and/or body and need some protections (prohibitions on serving potentially tainted food). Moreover, some folks just make bad decisions that might harm others (talking on the phone while driving, DWI, etc.) Assuming risk has a different meaning for different individuals in different contexts. Nonetheless, because the ignorance of some impacts the well being of all, many of these policies are necessary.

                                                      2. re: JayL

                                                        From "Food Safety News“ in 2011 (prior to NC adopting the new rules):

                                                        "And how would you like your burger — medium, medium-well, or well-done?”

                                                        The cooked end of the spectrum is the only option at restaurants in North Carolina, where rare burgers have been banned by state health code since the mid 90s..."

                                                        More here:

                                                        http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/05...

                                                      3. re: rouxqueen

                                                        If you are referring to North Carolina, you are not correct. A new law took effect in September, 2012 allowing ground meat to be cooked to whatever level of "doneness" the customer requests, as long as the restaurant posts a warning regarding the consumption of undercooked ground beef, regardless of where the beef is ground. Prior to September, all ground beef had to be cooked to an internal temperature of 155 degrees, also regardless of where the beef was ground. There were no exceptions to this law.

                                                        1. re: carolinadawg

                                                          Thanks. I knew somebody would look it up. ;) I heard or read that somewhere, It could have been a different state.

                                                          Personally, I'm picky about not only how my burger is cooked, but also from what restaurant I order it. People who aren't persnickety should be able to order a burger any way they want it as long as the restaurant has a posted warning to protect it from such individuals. But, alas that is not always a possibility as some restaurants do insist on cooking it to dry and rebuff the request of the patron. In these instances, I feel it is in my best interest to make another selection from the menu. Chances are, there is a reason they won't cook the "meat" to the desired doneness.

                                                          1. re: rouxqueen

                                                            you may have been thinking of SC. We are allowed to eat it rare if the meat is ground in house, at least that's what I'm told.

                                                2. Nobody in my family will eat a burger unless its Med Rare which is why I grind my own or get it from a butcher friend who will eat his product raw in front of you.

                                                  Good privately owner restaurants that grind their own will usually cook to order. I have found that chains often will not, however, I don't know if I would eat one M/R from them anyway if they did.

                                                  1. I am perplexed by why rare meats and fish are eaten especially with the occurences of meats being contaminated in the transformation process.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Ruthie789

                                                      What about sprouts, spinach, lettuce, etc? You can't live life in a bubble.

                                                      1. re: carolinadawg

                                                        I try not to just not daring on the raw meat as opposed to produce but am aware that they have had issues as well. Time to build a victory garden in my back yard, but won't be buying a cow.

                                                    2. Near the end of January, we were in Charlotte visiting family. My Sister-in-Law took us to a bar* near her home in what I believe would be the Myers Park area. I tried to order a rare burger, even tried to explain the change in the law and then "bargain" with the waitress. No luck! I settled for beer and onion rings that night.

                                                      *If I can learn or recall the name of the place, I will add it.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: MGZ

                                                        I learned the place we went to is called Brazwells and my wife also reminds me that I, in fact, settled for beer and Hell's Kitchen wings (and, apparently, a few tequilas). Moreover, I should note that while there are plenty of expatriated NJ folks living there these days, our waitress was thoroughly immune to my initial attempts at Northern charm.

                                                        OK. What can I say, my bad, we ate at a bunch of places over several days (and, I should add, Charlotte has become saturated with places serving/selling craft beer - back when I first went down in '95, they were scarce). I should also note that those Hell's Kitchen wings did not seem particularly "hot". Then again . . .

                                                        1. re: MGZ

                                                          The saturation of craft beers you noticed is due to another old relic of legislation being changed several years ago.

                                                          http://popthecap.org/

                                                          1. re: meatn3

                                                            aw, you're sweet to mention that. Go NC beer!

                                                            1. re: peetoteeto

                                                              No, Thank you! My drinking options are soooo much more interesting these days!

                                                              :-))

                                                      2. July 2014 and I'm still getting refusals on the Outer Banks and in Asheville. At least I have learned to ask before ordering and leave if they refuse. If I can't get a hamburger cooked the way I've eaten it for 60 years I'll spend my vacation dollars in another state. I know my few thousand dollars won't affect tourism in the state but as an outsider I have no idea how to get the word out.

                                                        11 Replies
                                                        1. re: misterlee

                                                          You're going to boycott an entire state because a couple of restaurants overcooked your burger? A bit extreme, imo. Not to mention, the law allows them to serve rare, it doesn't require them to do so.

                                                          1. re: carolinadawg

                                                            I'm also curious what type of establishments refused him. He might have a beef (pun intended) if it was a specialty burger place. But if I'm at a regular restaurant that happens to have a burger on the menu, I don't want someone inexperienced in cooking rare burgers doing one for me. That's probably why they refused -- Their cooks don't do it often enough to have the process down and they don't want to risk it.

                                                          2. re: misterlee

                                                            It would be an entire state if it is a state law that is enforced statewide. Clearly the bureaucracy that forced it so successfully down restaurants' throats has evaporated into the morning mists in repealing it, leaving no effective means to communicate it to those same restaurants. Two of the places were standard bar & grill type places with hamburgers on the menu. The last was a brand new hamburger joint opening up for business as a hamburger specialty place. They all insisted it was against state law and I didn't know any better being a tourist. For me it was three strikes and out. Since it turns out they were wrong, hence I too was wrong, it becomes a question of how to find out where I can get my food prepared the way I eat it. For me good food the way I like to eat it is part of the experience I take away. What I took away from this trip was generally wonderful, but obviously this upset me enough to join this discussion. Probably just too old and cranky. I wouldn't disagree with that one.

                                                            1. re: misterlee

                                                              Nor would I!

                                                              1. re: misterlee

                                                                Get over it. The world wasn't made for your personal satisfaction. Nobody is required to cater to your personal preferences. If you want a hamburger and can't find one that meets your standards, go home and make your own.

                                                                I'm old and cranky also, but I don't have a sense of entitlement. Sometimes I can't get what I want. I move on.

                                                                1. re: misterlee

                                                                  King James Public House in AVL features a "seared, rare burger" that is just excellent. On our recent visit, the burger included gouda and a slice of lardo. It was just amazing.

                                                                  1. re: misterlee

                                                                    I haven't certainly don't know the exact ruling on this, but it is my understanding (from a couple of favorite burger joints in the Triangle), that the issue is a disclaimer on the menu- if you are going to serve rare and medium rare burgers, you have to have a printed disclaimer stating that "eating undercooked meat may cause ....."

                                                                    1. re: ksbee

                                                                      I've been having good luck on this front in the last year or so. Successfully getting a medium rare to medium burger is definitely on the upswing for me, and I've confined myself to places like Carolina Ale House and such.

                                                                      1. re: ksbee

                                                                        In September, 2012 NC law changed to allow restaurants to serve ground beef cooked to an internal temperature of less than 155 degrees, if the restaurant posts a warning concerning the dangers of consuming such.

                                                                        1. re: carolinadawg

                                                                          Didn't the Charlotte Observer do an article about this CD?

                                                                          1. re: southernitalian

                                                                            Yes, I think so, as did several other media outlets.

                                                                            ETA: Here's an article by Kathleen Purvis, of the Charlotte Observer, that was published in the Raleigh News and Observer.

                                                                            http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/05/1...