Yanni's Sausage Grill takes up just 270 square feet, but there's a lot to love about the little Penngrove restaurant. Even before biting into one of John and Francesca Vrattos' handmade sausages, it's hard not be charmed.
John Vrattos grew up in a Greek family in Boston and greets customers in a warm, New England accent. "How are yah?" he calls out to regulars and newcomers, making instant friends with everyone.
The cubbyhole of a restaurant is painted blue and white with a bright orange door, the colors of Greece. Francesca works the register as her husband mans the grill. It's a true mom-and-pop shop that started when John got laid off from his job of 30 years as a sales manager for a Bay Area bakery. His daughter had given him a KitchenAid mixer with which he'd been making sausage for friends and family. When he lost his job, he decided to go pro. Then Francesca lost her job, too, so she joined him.
"It's just us," John says. "We put all our money into this."
The restaurant got a boost recently when Jim Belushi paid a visit. John had heard the actor and musician was in town to perform at the Sonoma County Fair, and he told himself if there was ever a celebrity who would appreciate his sausage, it would be Belushi.
"If someone would find this place, it would be a Chicago boy," John said. "But come on. It's Penngrove."
A few days later, John was working his way through a thicket of orders at the grill when he looked up and there was Belushi, waiting in a line that stretched out the door. Belushi ducked into the Penngrove Pub next door for a beer; the Vrattoses sent his sausage over. A photograph of their encounter hangs on the wall among a fistful of medals from the Sonoma County Harvest Festival for their sausage, including Best Charcuterie in 2010 and 2011.
Yanni's offers a sausage of the month (this month it's "the Aloha," teriyaki pork sausage with grilled onions, jack cheese and a grilled pineapple). The standard flavors include spicy and sweet Italian sausage, Greek sausage and the excellent "gyro in a link" sausage, ground lamb shoulder with garlic and oregano and a thick tzatziki sauce. My favorite might be the loukaniko, pork sausage seasoned with anise, orange and lemon zest.
The sausage ($5.95–$7) is served on a fresh baked roll from Penngrove's excellent Full Circle Bakery. The sandwiches come with a choice of grilled onions, roasted peppers, Greek chili or pepperoncinis. Ketchup, mustard and mayo are not standard options. If you really want mustard or ketchup, they'll probably give it to you—"We ask customers to take two or three bites first," John says—but don't ask for mayonnaise with the gyro sausage. "You're not getting it," he says.
The menu also includes burgers ($5.95 or $6.95 with cheese), a Greek salad ($1.75 and $3.25), Greek fries ($2.50 and $4.50) and a Greek salad sandwich ($5.70) for nonsausage eaters.
Yanni's is small, but the Vrattoses are growing their business slowly. There are no plans to expand, but they are considering a food truck. "We're thankful for what we've got," says John. "We're just trying to build from there."