SCARBOROUGH — Finally, the folks in the southern burbs have the same opportunity to experience the vibrant flavors of Federal Spice that we in Portland have enjoyed for years.

The funky, island-spiced wrap and taco shop recently opened a satellite restaurant on Route 1, just across the highway from the entrance to Scarborough Downs. It occupies a spot in a quiet retail center formerly occupied by a now-closed coffee shop chain.

The suburban location seems to be working. My wife and I stopped in on Saturday during a break from an exhausting day of car shopping, and the place was hopping. I wondered if people were there out of curiosity and a desire to check out the newest restaurant in town, or whether they stopped in because they were familiar with the Portland shop.

Doesn’t matter, really. For whatever reason, they were there, and most appeared to be happy.

Federal Spice has earned its reputation as one of the most innovative eateries in Portland because of its creative approach to basic food. Instead of plain old chili, Federal Spice offers curry chicken and rice chili cooked in coconut milk with a variety of peppers.

Instead of a chicken wrap, you can eat a Cajun blackened catfish wrap or Jamaican jerk chicken wrap. Or how about a taco made with ginger lemongrass or mango-glazed pork?

The menu is adventurous and out of the ordinary. Better still, most of what’s available here is relatively healthy. This is not your typical burger-and-fries-to-go kind of joint, although my wife did gush about her yam fries, which were not only lightly salted but also had a hint of sugar. I do believe I heard her moan when she downed her first bite.

I tried the heart-healthy chicken salad wrap, tossed in fat-free yogurt and rolled into a tortilla with Asian slaw. I have to admit that some of the flavoring of the slaw left me wishing it was a little less distinct. It was a bit too tart for my personal tastes, but I loved the treatment of the chicken in the yogurt and appreciated the size and heft of the wrap. When it came to our table, it felt like a brick.

For good measure, I also ordered a soft taco with rice and beans, with a dollop of salsa. That went down in a matter of seconds, I think.

My wife also sampled the smoked turkey and green onion quesadilla. The quesadilla was very good — the mingling of turkey and tangy salsa was surprisingly appealing, and quite hot in terms of temperature.

The atmosphere of the new restaurant is vastly different from the downtown location. This one is upscale, trimmed out in a soft red decor, with hints of the Caribbean.

Most of the dining area is outfitted with sturdy tables and chairs, but there’s also a family section that has a living-room feel to it, with large stuffed chairs. There’s a TV on one wall, and the place offers a wireless signal — perfect for following the afternoon hockey game in between bites.

The features staff of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram anonymously samples meals for about $7.


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