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; and for it, this little 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 four 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 when he died in 2004 the business was taken over by his sister Barbara. When we interviewed him in 2002, he told us he uses 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 Joe Pope’s 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.
"Joe Pope's hot tamales, steamed in corn husks, are all-beef, no pork, with enough peppery spice to require extra swigs on your bottle of Dr. Pepper."
"Joe Pope, the tamale master of Rosedale, Mississippi"
"This sign represents White Front Cafe's entire menu. But with tamales this good, who needs anything else?"
"Joe Pope's white, wood-frame house is a Mississippi good-eats treasure."
"My husband and I traveled through the Delta in search of great hot tamales. We stopped at the White Front Cafe where Susie Ervin was rolling tamales for the upcoming week's supply. This place is so clean you can eat off the floor. Really!"