You can get anything you want to eat at the White Front Café, also known as Joe’s Hot Tamale Place … just so long as what you want to eat is a tamale. The menu is one item, and one item only. For it, this wood-frame house by the side of Route 1 has become a Delta landmark to which people travel 100 miles from Memphis.
Many customers buy them by the dozen to take home for supper. We enjoy eating here at one of the kitchenette tables in the front room of the café. Order three or four and they are served tightly wrapped in their corn husk. You can eat them one of two ways: pick up a tamale and squeeze out a mouthful of the succulent insides or peel away the husk and use a saltine cracker to scoop some up. (If you want saltines, you’ll need to walk across Route 1 and buy a pack at the convenience store. Joe’s has soda pop to drink, as well as a few jars of pickles and penny candies on the counter, but no other foodstuffs on the menu.)
Joe Pope began serving tamales in Rosedale in the 1970s, and since he passed away, the business has remained a great tamale source. When we interviewed Mr. Pope in 2002, he told us he used a recipe he inherited from the daughter of John Hooks, who learned how to cook them from a Mexican from Texas who traveled through the Delta back in the 1930s. Today, tamales are a popular dish all along the Mississippi River from Memphis to Vicksburg. Most tamale cooks have their own way of doing things. Some use pork, some add chicken to the mix; some tamales are ferociously spicy. We believe the ones Joe Pope created are among the very best. They are all-beef (no pork), a well-nigh perfect blend of meat, cornmeal and just enough peppery spice to excite but not overwhelm your tongue.