Doesn't SDLmame allow this to happen?
When I launched SDL mame, it did indeed give me a launch menu, but general emulation performance was atrocious. I think
I need xmame in order to use the proprietry drivers for the gfx card. And sadly the version of xmame I have doesn't seem to have an equivalent launcher to the plain SDL port. There's a Winmame style launcher program though, which can apparently be joystick controlled, if only I can figure out which device the SDL Joystick is connected to. And it's possible the plain-jane launcher IS in a more recent version of xmame, if I care to investigate and compile from source.
...To be honest, this bit is the fun bit for me. Crafting a physical cabinet is probably beyond both my space and skill restrictions, but making a custom install of Linux? Right up my particular alley - I've been looking for a project to immerse myself and increase my practical knowledge in the "hows and why's" of how Linux operates. Using a system as a basic web-desktop is one thing. Being able to customise it is another