March 26 2009 12:00 AM

Deli in Holt shop aims to satisfy stomachs, budgets

Andy Garza runs what amounts to a oneman operation at his little Holt deli, but it wasnt supposed to be that way. When he originally planned to open Andys Mexican & American Deli, located inside the Brower Foods & Hardware store on Aurelius Road, Garzas stepfather, Alfredo Moncada, was slated to work as his deliveryman. But a car accident cut Moncadas life short last November, and Garza, taking care of his grieving mother, had to put his venture on the shelf for a few months.

"I had a sign that said coming soon forever," Garza said. “People kept asking me When are you going to open, when are you going to open? so it was difficult."

But open he did, in mid-December, and although its usually just Garza working the kitchen and counter (with the exception of his daughter, who helps out after school), the venture would be nowhere without the cooperation of his landlord, Tom Brower, a second generation owner of the old-fashioned hardware and grocery store who Garza calls a mentor. "Hes been very important to me," Garza said. "His advice means a lot to me. Hes been in business a long, long time."

Garza hopes to be in business a long time, too, with a style he calls "old-time service" and a slogan that insists hell remember the face of every customer. Garza begins cooking at 7 a.m., and although breakfast isnt particularly profitable, he sells breakfast burritos to college students and other hungry morning commuters.

In his limited space, Garza has constructed an impressively large menu. With six lunch specials (and more on the way), along with hamburgers and a few other appetizers, Garza can get pretty busy running the lunch rush himself, one time managing 25 simultaneous orders.

His Mexican menu came first, a collection of recipes Garza has been gathering and tweaking since his teenage days selling burritos in the scorching fields of Texas, attempting to avoid the backbreaking labor of "cutting cotton" (weeding the fields) from 4 a.m. to dusk with his father.

Garza, who sees cooking as therapeutic, has his own style in the kitchen. "All my recipes are in the back of my head, and I don’t even taste my food anymore," he said. "I know when its done by smell and time.

"It just comes natural to me. I don’t use measuring cups in the kitchen, everything is done by the feel of my hand. I throw everything in, like the bell pepper, the onions, the tomatoes — everything is done by hand. Ill drop some if it feels too heavy or add more if it feels too light," he said, laughing.

He seems to be doing something right, and it starts with meals that are all homemade and cooked to order. The wet burrito ($6.99) is served with chips, beans and rice. Filled with choice of meat, cheese and beans, it is coated with a tangy sauce and blanketed with a handful of lettuce and tomatoes. No over-seasoning here; the special sauce is cumin-based but doesnt overpower the dish, which is brought together by tender strands of roast beef.

His most expensive dinner is $7.50, and that includes a combination of items that also come as their own meals: enchiladas, tacos, tostadas and tamales. Fajitas and chimichangas also populate the menu, with quesadillas and deli sandwiches coming soon.

And when Garza says fresh, he means it. Want guacamole? Youll watch him scoop the avocado from its rind and mix it fresh. The house salsa, dutifully made every morning, has a light, garden-fresh taste.

That salsa is the base for one of Andys more unique items: the Mexican pizza ($10.99 for a 16-inch) Garza starts with a layer of his salsa as the tomato sauce, adds a layer of white cheese, throws on some seasoned ground beef, slices of jalapeno and a scattering of onions, and finishes with a bit more cheese. The end result is a delightfully zesty pie with a gentle but steady capsaicin kick that lingers after youve eaten your fill.

In a small-town like Holt, service makes as much of an impact as food, and Garza takes things back a few decades for his inspiration. He proudly wears the oldtime diner triangle hat and cooked up the usual for Tony Saenz, a regular customer, one recent afternoon. "I love his food, and hes personable, too," Saenz said. "Ive had everything on the menu."

Happy, returning customers build a successful restaurant, and Garza thinks hes got the right philosophy to make that happen. "I want people to know theres still a place they can come to eat, go home full, and take leftovers for the little bit of money that you got in your pocket," he said. "Thats what I want, even in this hard time, thats what I want."

Andy’s Mexican and American Deli, inside Brower Foods & Hardware 2102 N. Aurelius Road, Holt. 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. Monday – Saturday, closed Sunday. (517) 268-0051.

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