Oh my goodness. Welliver's is one of those fine restaurants that you never forget once you visit. I grew up visiting here often, and still try to go at least once every time I go back to Richmond to visit.
To dine at Welliver's is to have an opportunity to have three entirely different experiences. Upon finishing your wait in line, you must announce to the waitress whether you will be dining in the bar, the "menu side" or the "buffet side".
I've never dined in the bar, but I have passed it many times on my way to the "menu side" and I have seen that the crowd in there drinks fine beers and throws the peanut shells on the floor.
To choose the menu side is to be taken to a small, comfortable room with elegant ambiance, and offered some of the most delicious food to be found anywhere. From the free appetizer tray of chips, fresh vegetables, and their famous beer-chili dip, to any of their perfectly-cooked steaks (or chicken, fish, shellfish, or vegetables if you prefer), to the nationally renowned cinnamon bread or cheesecake at the end, you will be continually wowed. The wait staff is incredibly attentive, and will be happy to visit the buffet side to make you a custom salad to your specifications, or to get for you something not available on the menu.
As great as those first two are, it's the smorgasbord that put Welliver's on the map. At one time it was the only four-star smorgasbord in the country. Willy made sure that everything there was perfect. I miss him now that he's gone. He would frequently come and walk among us as we were choosing food and ask us how we liked it, holding our hands, and pointing out things. He sometimes would pretend to not be the owner, and complain about the food or service to the patrons to see if the patrons agreed with him. He was known to be demanding of his employees, throwing out entire batches of food if not to his impeccable tastes. His heirs have continued to run the restaurant according to his standards.
On the buffet you will find shrimp, shrimp, and shrimp. Not cheap, old, or wimpy shrimp, but shrimp flown in from the docks fresh. You will find a huge salad bar, with more items than you ever imagined. The dinner bar has freshly sliced roast beef, and ham, and delicately cooked fish fillets. The dessert bar is home to many of the famous Welliver's cheesecakes--always two or three varieties of real cheesecake each night--as well as their famous hand-dipped ice cream flavors, cakes, cookies, and other items.
Everything about this restaurant, from the waiting lounges in all of the restrooms, to the art on the walls, speaks of class.
If you're in the area, do not pass up the opportunity for this fine dining experience. They are only open Thursday through Sunday, though, so be sure to schedule your visit for those days.