Azalea Bistro: Sweet surgery snacks 

"I feel like I should be shopping here – maybe a pretty accessory for my new knee," a limping woman says. She's eying the original artwork and the player piano turning out soothing tunes at the new Women's & Surgery Center at DeKalb Medical Center. Then there's the atrium bistro. "Let's stay for a bit," she convinces her ride home. "We can eat here. Will you look at that cheesecake?"

More mall than hospital hall: The new Women's & Surgery Center seems more like a boutique to browse than a place to get broken bones set or replaced -- much less birth a baby. A welcome "bypass" to the morass of medical procedures is Azalea Bistro. It's much more a high-end food court than the usual mandatory medical slop hall.

No anesthetic aesthetics: Gone is the green Jell-O. There are no mystery molds that shake worse than nerves already do in such a serious setting. Instead, the artful, inexpensive bistro fare is surprisingly life-affirming.

The menu features signature sandwiches served on artisan breads. Try the "gobbler" ($4.75), featuring real roasted turkey, rare roast beef, Swiss, hearty "dressings" and herb mayonnaise. The veggie bella ($4.25) is healthy and plump with grand, grilled portobellos and caramelized veggies blanketed in smoky provolone. I was tempted, after a necessary visit, to hang out a bit too long at the medical center enjoying a trifecta sandwich – a pastrami-and-corned-beef heart attack on a plate.

Cut and run: If woozy and ready for a quick exit, grab a preprepared California chicken salad ($4.75). Moist, grilled chicken breast is heaped onto a bounty of mixed purple and green lettuces and tossed with sweet strawberries and savory nuts.

There are featured soups of the day. The staff will let you taste. A snappy gumbo in a chicken-and-tomato base has a homemade flavor. Try that with half a chicken-salad sandwich – mild enough for all but kept vibrant with bell-pepper crunch and a bunch of mystery spices.

Dinner specials are an even better value. Though not quite so gourmand in nature as the lunch stuff, the off-hours deals ($4.29 from 10 p.m.-2 a.m) include entrees such as buttermilk-marinated fried chicken or broiled pork chops with two sides and bread.

Surgical slice of cake: For a reward to help heal wounds, Azalea also offers various sweet treats. Don't miss the perfectly tart lemon squares for $1.50. There are also daily cheesecakes, giant cookies, smoothies and cappuccinos. This place is almost worth a visit even if you're not planning to give birth or trade in your old knee for a new one.

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