ST. LOUIS • The Cardinals and climate together conspired to fill downtown’s fall food festival on Saturday.
Crowds thronged the parks surrounding Soldier’s Memorial, home to the ninth annual Taste of St. Louis. People lined up behind four dozen food booths for paper trays of tacos, pad Thai and Ethiopian chicken tibs, among other morsels.
And they filled more than four downtown blocks with thousands of beer-carrying, baseball-loving food fans.
Dan Woodlock, 59, drove 75 miles from Roodhouse, Ill., for the Cardinals-Cubs game. But the match wasn’t set to start until after 3 p.m., so he and his family hit Taste for lunch.
The four, all in Cubs gear, stood in line for some freebies, wandered the food booths, then decided: sliders on a pretzel bun, bacon sandwiches, ribs, brisket and pulled pork.
“Now we have to start thinking about dessert,” he said among the crowd in the shade on the old municipal courthouse steps.
Marlene Dotson, 42, from East St. Louis, said she brought her family every year to sample the food, and wasn’t going to miss this one. “The weather is perfect — not too hot, not too cool, no rain,” she said. “I can taste some of just about everything. And if I really love it, I can go to the restaurant tomorrow.”
K Sonderegger, festival co-director and co-owner, said this was the biggest outing yet — and she expected it to be the busiest.
In 2005, about 65,000 people showed up, she said. Last year, they estimated 400,000 visitors. She figured this year could break 420,000. “It just grows and grows every single year,” she said.
The St. Louis food scene has exploded, she said, and she thinks festivals play a role. She was especially happy, this year, with the $15 beer-tasting at Budweiser’s world beer tent.
Still, not all that intrigued involved snacks or suds.
Taste, which runs through Sunday night, hosts art booths, live cooking battles between area chefs, music each evening, and several blocks of commercial attractions — booths for cellphones, TV stations, insurance and even Aaron’s lease-to-own stores.
In fact, one of the busiest booths Saturday afternoon came from something decidedly less digestible.
Across from a Missouri Lottery trailer on 13th Street, three men and a woman decked out in tan jumpsuits and ghost-busting proton packs posed for photos with a stream of visitors.
Mikhail Lynn, 27, from Crestwood, president of the Greater St. Louis Ghostbusters, explained that he and his friends were not trappers of the paranormal, but instead followers of the eponymous 1984 movie.
They had been asked by the state lottery to help promote a new “Ghostbusters” themed Scratcher.
So Lynn and his ghost busters brought in cars they had altered to look like the movie’s 1959 Cadillac ghost ambulance. They displayed their equipment, backpacks and ghost traps hand-built to mimic those used by Bill Murray or Dan Aykroyd in the movie.
And most festival visitors loved it.
But, for some, it was a bit confusing.
Around noon, a man with a shaved head and white ribbed tank-top stopped to look at some of the gear.
“Have you guys ever actually caught a ghost?” he asked.
Lynn shook his head.
“We get a lot of that,” Lynn said later. “Sometimes you don’t know whether to humor them or be honest.”