Edible Dives: Loose Change
Go for the beer. Stay for the tacos.
I have this thing for real stuff.
As a writer, I prefer condensed, wellintended language with minimal adjectives and articles. As a shopper, I favor the run-down, sometimes smelly thrift store to the fluorescent-lit big box. As a music lover, give me the dissonant harmony of a singer or musician playing an accidental off-note.
This applies to food, too. Give me the dive, the hole-in-the-wall, the place you never thought you’d enter, let alone dine. No frills, no fancy cloth napkins or proper place settings.
Clemson’s Loose Change appears from the main strip to be any old college bar, a bit worn around the edges: chipped paint and faded brick façade. There’s no neon sign directing you to the entrance. Instead, a small sandwich board with some witty statement highlights the special of the day and maybe beckons you inside.
And once inside, you feel…well, like you’re in an old college bar, surrounded by walls swathed in autographed dollar bills and small neon beer signs. It’s beautiful in its simplicity: you find a spot to sit, and you sit down. Many pony up directly to the bar to eat, as seating is minimal. Folded paper menus conveniently rest—alongside plastic cutlery, hot sauce, and ketchup—inside a bucket in the middle of the table.
In such a setting, you may be surprised when your food arrives and you discover this bar serves some of the freshest food around.
On my most recent visit, we first devoured the fried pickle appetizer, a generous enough portion to share. These babies are hand-battered and have absolutely no uniformity— some thinner slices, some thicker, but all with the perfect balance of brine and breading (a slightly spicy dipping sauce makes the flavors linger after the bite). Served steaming hot, each serving is made to order. No frozen, uniform, soggy pickles here.
Two folks at our table ordered burgers, which came resting on a stack of fresh, hand-cut fries (ordered separately), inside a paper boat, and staked with a plastic knife. The pimento-cheeseburger, an ooey gooey mess (in all the best ways), was well seasoned and offered a balanced textural experience: crisp lettuce and briny pickles played well against creamy housemade pimento cheese. The only opportunity for improvement on this bad boy is a stronger bun that can hold up to its contents. Prepare to, at a minimum, have messy hands or, worst-case scenario, wear some of your dinner. We all agreed the payoff was worth the risk.
Since we’re on the topic of pimento cheese: many moons ago, Loose Change offered a fried pimento-cheese balls appetizer that has since been taken off the menu. To the proprietors I plead, for the love of all that’s holy, bring back the fried pimento cheese balls!
Yet despite this great loss, I find myself returning to Loose Change for their tacos. It must be their pièce de résistance: beef, chicken, or steak served on a grilled corn tortilla with red onion, jalapeno, cilantro, shredded cheese, and a lime to squeeze. On Tuesdays, beef tacos are only $1.25 (!), so you can fill your belly on the cheap. The pulled pork taco with jalapeno avocado ranch slaw is my personal favorite, and I order it every time I go. (Actually, I ask for the divine slaw creation on every taco. It’s that good.)
Loose Change also offers mondo burritos, salads, quesadillas, sammies and wraps, and a variety of appetizers. And—in case you forget you are in a bar—beer, tequila, and the like.
No matter how the menu changes, Loose Change provides simple, good, fresh, and homemade food where each ingredient shines. No frills. Nothing fancy. But each bite worth it.
My kind of eating.
349 College Avenue
Unique specials every week, Taco Tuesdays, and Friday BBQ Socials