Critical acclaim came quickly to State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria, the bustling family-owned eatery located at the site of the former Maltby's in downtown Los Altos. The restaurant's audacious "What the Duck" pizza, which combined duck, pickled cherries and foie gras, won Best Non-Traditional Pizza at the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas in 2017, securing State of Mind an award-winning pedigree nine months before it opened.
Judging by the sizeable crowds that have packed the 100-seat restaurant since its debut last January, that victory in Vegas was no mirage. My two recent visits to State of Mind confirmed that the menu indeed offered some show-stopping pizza and beer choices, though some side dishes missed the mark.
State of Mind is an unusual name for a restaurant, but co-owner Lars Smith convincingly sold it to me, explaining that it is a celebration of California and its spirited inhabitants, drawing particular inspiration from the Golden State's bounty of fresh ingredients. "Our food is made from scratch and sourced locally to take advantage of the diversity of agriculture," said Smith. "We serve only the type of high-quality food that we would eat ourselves."
The "Made in California" stamp appears most visibly at the restaurant's centerpiece bar, which features a whopping 30 craft beers and ciders on tap, all produced by independent brewers in-state. Co-proprietor Andrew Smith, Lars' brother, has curated an expansive, eclectic local line up which includes IPAs, lagers, stouts, sours and more. The taps -- with the exception of the first five positions reserved for Firestone Walker, Sierra Nevada, Drake's, Anchor Steam and Stone Brewing -- are in constant rotation. During my visits, I discovered the crisp MadeWest Pilsner and the golden, citrusy Penske File Ale from Faction Brewing Company. Even seasoned beer enthusiasts are apt to make appealing new finds among State of Mind's roulette wheel of singular craft beers.
Past the bar in the far west corner, an arcade showcasing about a dozen classic '90s pinball and video games (hello, Simpsons and Ninja Turtles) draws a mix of youngsters and older nostalgia trippers. The remainder of the airy, rectangular space contains both high top and communal seating. The understated, comfy décor features framed vintage California-themed beer labels and posters mixed among three jumbo, sports-streaming televisions.
As one might expect, State of Mind's pizza and beer tandem exert a stubborn superiority over the rest of the menu. A newbie ordering at the bar -- there's no table service here -- will likely cede his or her place in line at least once while attempting to settle on one of the obscure craft beers or the temptingly-described pizzas.
I swooned over the heirloom goat pizza ($22, serves two to three people) which was layered with creamy chevre, garlic, mozzarella, fresh basil and a liberal sprinkling of juicy, vibrantly colored heirloom cherry tomatoes. The hand-stretched dough was cooked to yield a soft, slightly chewy center and a New York-style crust that had just the right amount of crunch. The limited quantity "grandma pie" ($20.50) -- only 10 are sold each day -- was a dense and delicious double-baked, double-proofed, pan-style pizza with mozzarella, red sauce, extra virgin olive oil and pecorino. I was glad I added some piquant pepperoni for additional heat.
Surprisingly, my least favorite of the trio was a modified version of the prize-winning "What the Duck" ($26). The pizza was composed of an unwieldy frisée salad dressed with a beer-based vinaigrette served atop a layer of mozzarella and toma cheese, meager servings of shredded duck and a potent pairing of pickled cherries and cherry relish. The acidic dressing and tart cherry flavors heavily obscured a final ingredient designed to be the standout: the savory foie gras and black garlic cream sauce. (Alas, readers hoping to get their initial taste of this item are out of luck for the foreseeable future: The owners pulled it from the menu following the recent court-ordered reinstatement of California's ban on foie gras.)
Selections from the "Bites and Fries" sections of the menu veered unsatisfyingly into Midwest comfort food territory. The "Almost World Famous" jalapeño balls ($8) arrived lukewarm, the soupy cheese filling overshadowing the much too mild peppers. Dirty fries ($10.50) were a gooey concoction of Kennebec fried potatoes, beer cheese sauce, bacon and jalapeño peppers. The soft, thinly-sliced fries could not stand up to the morass of thick, chalky cheese.
A pair of exquisite salads marked a return to West Coast fresh. I savored the winterland salad ($10.50), a bountiful bed of crunchy greens laden with slightly sour pomegranates, quinoa, fennel and crumbled ricotta salata. My dining companions enjoyed their classic wedge ($11) with iceberg lettuce, Point Reyes blue cheese and copious bits of crisp, salty bacon.
Considering its carb-centric, generously portioned mains and sides, State of Mind is wise to keep its dessert menu simple. The sweets section is comprised of root beer floats, true beer floats for those 21 and over and seasonal cookies.
State of Mind's service was genuine and welcoming, though bussers struggled to keep up during one peak-hour Friday evening visit. Bar staff exhibited the owners' passion for local craft beer, offering pairing suggestions and dispensing sample pours of recommended drafts.
Despite the prominence of acoustic ceiling tiles throughout the restaurant, Lars Smith was candid about the noise level. "It's loud," he said, "but people come here to celebrate, and that's a wonderful sound."
State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria
101 Plaza North, Los Altos
Hours: Monday-Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Credit cards: Yes
Parking: City lot and street
Alcohol: Beer and wine
Happy hour: Monday-Friday 3-6 p.m.
Corkage: $10 per bottle
Outdoor dining: Yes
Noise level: Loud
Bathroom cleanliness: Excellent